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Long Weekend Review: A '90s-Style Rom-Com With A Twist

A small, relationship-fueled movie that feels like a throwback for much of its run, Long Weekend has an out-of-left-field sci-fi twist that will grab your attention. Whether it pays off will be a taste of personal preference, but with charming lead performances and a gutsy willingness to try something different, the result is a breezy tale about falling in love and suspending disbelief.

Writer/director Steve Basilone, known for TV comedies like Community and The Goldbergs, makes his filmmaking debut with this tale about Bart (Finn Wittrock from Ratched), a writer trying to bounce back from a failed relationship, his mother's death, and a nervous breakdown. When he seeks distraction in a theater with an afternoon showing of Being There — a film about a character with a vacillating identity — he falls asleep and is awoken by the whimsical, unpredictable Vienna (Zoe Chao from Love Life). What follows is a Before Sunrise-like first date where they fall hard for each other. But when the smoke clears, Bart realizes he knows virtually nothing about her.

Picking over the details with friends Doug (Damon Wayans Jr. from New Girl) and Rachel (Casey Wilson, Saturday Night Live), he can't help but obsess over some of the more eccentric elements of his new girlfriend's personality. She carries an enormous wad of money everywhere she goes; she doesn't own a phone; she says she's a visitor, but is evasive about where she's from and what she does for a living.

At this point, it's hard to talk about Long Weekend without getting into the twist, which some might see as a spoiler but others will call a key element of the plot. Until its reveal, the movie feels like a very generic indie romance film, one that seemed to be released every week in the '90s and now have long-forgotten titles like Love & Sex, Sleep with Me, Don't Do It or The Low Life. These films typically told the tale of twentysomething men living in Los Angeles, eating ramen packets and Hot Pockets while chasing elusive careers as writer/director/actors, until their glum existence is shaken up by sexually liberated pixie girls who throw their love lives into disarray, inspire them to rediscover their spontaneity — and go through all this while doing implausible things like going to see an afternoon matinee of a Peter Sellers film. The fate of these films was typically a brief arthouse window, followed by life at Blockbuster Video as a cover box with a thick layer of dust resting on top.

Is there anyone in 2021 who still wants to watch these movies? If so, read no further, you're sold. Otherwise, you'll be surprised to learn where Long Weekend goes next.

Playing with fire

Although Bart falls hard for Vienna, and his friends are happy for him to have found love again, curiosity eventually gets the better of him. He keeps pushing his new lover for personal details, and finally she capitulates. She tells him she's actually a time traveler from the year 2052, who has traveled back to our current day to make some small moves that will help her family in the future. She then planned to travel back, but falling in love with Bart has created an unforeseen complication.

At this point, Long Weekend starts feeling like a much more interesting late 90s/early 2000s film: Happy Accidents, an underrated romantic comedy from Brad Anderson that had Marisa Tomei falling in love with Vincent D'Onofrio, a quirky guy who is insistent that he's from the future. That film had a bittersweet taste that punctuated its romantic moments, as questions arose about whether D'Onofrio's character had a time machine or was mentally ill. In the end, we find out that the time-traveling character may have made his trip to prevent a tragedy.

In case you're not picking up on this yet, there isn't a lot of original territory being mined by Long Weekend. But at least the time travel element gives the film some sense of tension, raising the issues of falling in love, learning to trust a partner, and how far that trust can stretch before you're just enabling someone else's self-destructive tendencies.

As with any romantic comedy, whether you like Long Weekend or not depends largely on how you feel about the leads. It's a showcase for Chao, a born scene-stealer whose work in films like Downhill and Where'd You Go, Bernadette has made her one of those actors whose names you might not know, but who gets you excited whenever you see her pop up in something. She has a manic, wide-eyed charm that can be sexy and spontaneous, and she also has a great sense of comedic timing. For most viewers, this will be the largest role they've ever seen her play, and it gives Chao ample opportunity to tap into sizeable skills only briefly glimpsed until now.

Wittrock is an interesting case, an actor who seems like a traditionally handsome leading man but who has a vulnerability beneath the surface. He's been working for more than a decade, but this might be his best chance yet to build a fully fleshed-out character. Together with Chao, he creates some adorable moments (like when Vienna plays with a sparkler for the first time) that go a long way toward making up for deficiencies in the dialogue and plot. It's hard not to pull for these two young lovers, even as they both make several really bad decisions when it comes to finding a mate.

With friends like these

Basilone's work history seems to have lined up a good number of supporting stars, who make substantial contributions to a film that is very much about other people falling in love. Wayans is funny and touching as a put-upon dad who still longs to exchange dating details with his single friend — or extend him a helping hand when he needs the stability of family life. Wilson has some cute moments in what is little more than a cameo, as does the great Wendi McLendon-Covey (Reno 911!), bookending the movie with some humor as a bitter landlady who has nothing but hate for her tenants and love for Bart.

If you have more than a passing interest in science fiction, you're probably going to want to steer clear of Long Weekend (the title, by the way, supposedly references a band from the future whose song Vienna sings to prove that she's a time traveler). There are a couple decent jokes about Back to the Future logic, but the film has little interest in even acknowledging its many shortcomings in plausibility. By the end of the movie, when you know all the film's secrets, re-playing the details in your mind won't reveal much clever plotting, just a headache.

This is the sort of film that looks like it was shot in the apartment of the filmmaker, so as you can imagine, it avoids any sort of effects shots that would address its science fiction conceit. The directorial style is as simple and straightforward as the set design, with the exception of occasional editing that depicts visions that Bart may or may not be having.

As for whether you should watch Long Weekend, let's put it this way: if Vienna time traveled to 2021, she'd undoubtedly be aware of the 2020 we all just went through. She might say that now is the perfect time to snack on some comfort food in the form of a cute rom-com that feels like it went straight to video 20 years ago. She wouldn't be wrong.