A sweet and glossy riff on the surprisingly robust sub-genre of movie romances about sad people who fall in love with time travelers (they feel like the ones who got away before they’ve even left!), Steve Basilone’s “Long Weekend” is too hung up on the soft mystery of its premise to ever arrive at something that resembles a point, which is all the more frustrating because several of them appear to be shimmering just beyond the movie’s reach. One particularly entrancing notion that Basilone’s debut only flirts with from a distance: The idea that committing to a functional relationship with anyone, unstuck in time or not, requires you to believe that they’re from the future. Or at least from your future.
Which isn’t to spoil whether Vienna really is an N.S.A. agent who’s been sent back to pre-COVID Los Angeles from the year 2052 in order to make a few minor adjustments, or if she’s just some delusional stranger whom our handsome protagonist meet-cutes at a mid-afternoon screening of “Being There” (which, even compared to the rest of L.A., seems like a reliable place to find delusional strangers). It’s only to say that that the truth of the matter becomes kind of moot once she instills Bart with a new faith in what tomorrow might hold.
Of course, the possibility remains that Bart (“American Horror Story” survivor Finn Whittrock) could be the crazy one here. Inspired by Basilone’s own experience of hitting rock-bottom when his mom and his marriage both died in the span of a few awful months, “Long Weekend” introduces its hard-luck hero through a series of very concerned voicemails from his psychiatrist.
A shooting star and the sensitive burbles of Lauren Culjack’s synth score (like Tangerine Dream by way of “(500) Days of Summer”) tell us that everything will be okay or close to it, but it seems like Bart hasn’t been taking his meds or any other care of himself. Even his ex is concerned about how he’s doing. Is he recovering from the breakdown that followed their breakup?
Not yet, but he will be soon. In real life, Bart’s looks wouldn’t offer any meaningful comment on his mental condition, but in the movies, well, one glance at Bart’s flinty smile — equal parts James Dean and Max Greenfield — is enough to know that he’ll be okay even if he only has $324 to his name and has to crash in his friend Doug’s (Damon Wayans Jr.) garage. This isn’t going to be a story about someone who spirals out of control, it’s going to be a story about someone who discovers that a little bit of magic can go a long way to getting your life back on track.
One way or the other, a little bit of magic is exactly what Vienna (“Love Life” breakout Zoë Chao) offers when she wakes Bart up after he passes out in the dark of the cinema where they both go to see “Being There,” a movie that Bart later diagnoses as “a reminder that all of the shit in our lives is a state of mind and we can make it as big or as little as we want.”
If Vienna — winsome, available, nothing but time and a suspicious amount of cash on her hands — really is from 2052, the fact that she’s spending a crucial part of her brief visit to our present at a rep theater does not bode well for the state of moviegoing in the future. But it’ll be a minute before Bart understands why Vienna is so elusive when it comes to personal information. First they have to go through the motions of that one perfect date, have sex, and forge some kind of emotional investment; Bart needs a good reason not to just cut his losses when she drops the whole “Safety Not Guaranteed” angle on him.
Wittrock and Chao are both enormously likeable in their roles, even if Basilone’s derivative script often dilutes the organic chemistry between them in order to maintain the integrity of its plot. A certain degree of movie-ness is intrinsic to Bart and Vienna’s meet-cute, and “Long Weekend” — straining to channel the gauzy, snow-globe sensation that can make an unexpected encounter feel like kismet — relies on that slightly elevated vibe to straddle the line between fact and science-fiction. Bart asking Vienna “are you real, or are you one of those manic pixie dream girls?” epitomizes a film that never stops trying to have it both ways; a film that does everything in its limited power to be magical and matter-of-fact all at once.
That balancing act is expressed through Basilone’s low-fuss approach (casual compositions, small cast, arch but not airless banter) to a high-concept idea, and even more directly through the simple ways that Vienna tries to establish her anachronistic bonafides. Not everyone travels through time with a sports almanac in their carry-on bag, but the scene in which Vienna provides Bart with the best proof she has paves the way for the movie’s nicest beat.
It also crystallizes the movie’s inability to reconcile the preciousness of the moment at hand with the looming possibility that Vienna might not belong in it, even if the latter threat ought to intensify the urgency of the former promise. A richer film might have mined some more nuance from the “is she or isn’t she?” tension that this one stretches all the way through an ending that finds Basilone keeping his bets firmly hedged, but “Long Weekend” is so narrowly enchanted by the idea of meeting someone who might save your life that it only bothers to explore it in the most literal terms.
And Vienna, despite Chao’s best efforts, is all but reduced to an iron lung who forces Bart to breathe when it feels like he’s on the brink of forgetting how; for someone who supposedly came back in time with her own personal agenda, even the most basic aspects of her mission seem to fall by the wayside as soon as she meets a cute boy. Maybe Vienna is too real to qualify as a manic pixie dream girl, but she definitely isn’t living on her own timeline.
Sony Pictures will release “Long Weekend” in theaters on Friday, March 12.
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