Review: A ‘Long Weekend’ of Manic Pixie Dream Girl machinations
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There’s something about Vienna. Something off, that is. The love interest of writer-director Stephen Basilone’s “Long Weekend,” Vienna, as played by Zoe Chao (who has perfected the art of quirky ’n’ cute) is just too good to be true. She looks adorable in vintage tees. She goes to Peter Sellers movies alone in the middle of the day. She invites a stranger, Bart (Finn Wittrock), to go to a dive bar, where she cuts capers and quips a mile a minute, flirts in a photo booth, doesn’t have a phone, doesn’t know how much drinks cost, says she’s from “up north” and carries thousands of dollars in cash. Wait, what? Finally, Bart asks, “Are you real or are you one of those Manic Pixie Dream Girls?”
The line is a self-reflective wink and a nudge from Basilone, a nod at the stereotypical female character as seen in films like “Garden State” and “Elizabethtown,” the moniker coined by the AV Club’s Nathan Rabin in 2007. Rabin described the Manic Pixie Dream Girl as existing “solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.”
Bart is indeed “broodingly soulful,” in an emotional funk after being dumped by his fiancée, on the verge of moving into his friend’s garage and ignoring increasingly frantic phone calls from his doctor. Vienna, indeed, does seem to be some kind of product of a “fevered imagination”: She’s attractive, carefree, sexually liberated, versed in the offbeat movies and music beloved by men; she performs modern dances in her undies and his blazer, and speaks bad Italian while coquettishly tasting marinara sauce. It seems no cloud could ever darken her sunny visage. One would say, “She’s not like other girls” (that old chestnut), and she’s not, because she doesn’t behave the way any human woman would.
Basilone’s acknowledgement of the archetype is a sort of self-assigned “get out of jail free” card, though he then proceeds apace, writing one of the more baffling Manic Pixie Dream Girl stories of all time in “Long Weekend.” It’s such an egregious example that, (spoiler) for a portion of the film, we don’t even know if this particular Manic Pixie Dream Girl even exists, negating any semblance of a lived experience. Not that “Long Weekend” is remotely authentic. It’s closer to science fiction.
To explain all of this would spoil the film, badly, because it’s built on bonkers plot twists that flirt with the supernatural, coupled with an earnest, if treacly, message about living in the moment in the face of illness and instability. If you’ve seen the trailer, which depicts the early days of the whirlwind romance between Bart and Vienna, you’ve probably already guessed there’s an imminent ominous turn.
“Long Weekend” is gorgeously shot by cinematographer Felipe Vara de Rey, and Basilone’s script is at least self-aware about Bart blatantly ignoring a parade of red flags while falling in love with Vienna. But Basilone doesn’t seem all that interested in unpacking the unexplored sides of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. He has said in interviews that the film is somewhat autobiographical, based on personal experiences, and while the sentiments feel authentic, the ludicrous plot, filled with holes, doesn’t do the emotional aspects of the story any service. In fact, upon closer inspection, it all ultimately feels far more far more cynical than seemingly intended.
Rated: R, for language throughout
Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes
Playing: Starts March 12, Vineland Drive-in, City of Industry; and in general release where theaters are open
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