Review: ‘Long Weekend’ (2021), starring Finn Wittrock and Zoë Chao

March 12, 2021

by Carla Hay

Finn Wittrock and Zoë Chao in “Long Weekend” (Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures)

“Long Weekend”

Directed by Steve Basilone

Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles, the romantic drama “Long Weekend” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with one Asian and a few African Americans) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A depressed man meets a mysterious and fun-loving woman, but their budding romance is threatened by secrets.

Culture Audience: “Long Weekend” will appeal primarily to people who like fantastical elements to romantic stories and are willing to tolerate a movie that can be cliché-ridden and doesn’t live up to its ambitious potential.

Damon Wayans Jr. and Casey Wilson in “Long Weekend” (Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures)

The romantic drama “Long Weekend” makes a fairly well-intentioned attempt to be a deep, philosophical movie about the meaning of life, but the results are a shallow and very stereotypical movie about two people who meet and quickly fall in love. Even with a talented and appealing cast, “Long Weekend” is filled with too many plot holes and cloying moments to be anything but a lightweight and forgettable movie. There’s a sci-fi element of the film that’s also badly mishandled.

“Long Weekend” writer/director Steve Basilone says in the movie’s production notes that the film is loosely inspired by events he experienced in real life, when he went through a divorce and his mother had cancer around the same time. It’s too bad that so much of the movie feels very contrived, from the flimsy plot twists to the too-cutesy dialogue between people in their 30s. There’s nothing wrong with bringing some science fiction into a romantic drama, as long as the characters are believable and the sci-fi works well for the plot overall. (The 2004 classic “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” is one example of a sci-fi romantic drama that was done right.)

The beginning of “Long Weekend” starts out by showing how a Los Angeles writer named Bart Waters (played by Finn Wittrock) is experiencing a major slump in his life. A series of voicemail messages from a psychiatric facility are heard in voiceovers in the opening scenes. The messages indicate that Ben recently spent some time as a patient in the facility, but he’s been avoiding making a follow-up appointment so his doctor can evaluate his out-patient progress.

It’s revealed a little later in the movie that Bart is recovering from some kind of nervous breakdown. His beloved mother was diagnosed with cancer, and he had problems coping with this crisis. His emotional distress caused his fiancée Whit (played by Jess Jacobs) to leave him. And that’s when Bart really had a meltdown, which led to his stay in the psychiatric facility. Fortunately, the movie doesn’t show any of this trauma in flashbacks, because it would ruin the optimistic tone that this film is trying to convey.

Sometime during this psychiatric breakdown, Bart lost his job and could no longer afford his apartment rent. And so, in the beginning of the film, he’s shown already packed up and ready to move, as the apartment building’s non-nonsense manager Patricia (played by Wendi McLendon-Covey) tells Bart that she’s about to show his apartment to a prospective tenant. The role of Patricia is very small, underwritten and actually unnecessary. It’s a waste of McLendon-Covey’s talent.

It’s unclear how long Bart was in the psychiatric facility, but his mother is now dead, and Bart apparently has no other family to turn to in this personal crisis. And so, Bart ends up moving into the garage of his best friend Doug (played by Damon Wayans Jr.), who was the person who recommended that Bart get psychiatric help. Doug lives with his wife Rachel (played by Casey Wilson) and their two kids. Doug and Rachel have a toddler daughter named Eve (played by Ellison Randell) and an energetic son named Teddy (played by Carter Morgan), who’s about 5 or 6 years old and likes to dress up as imaginary superheroes.

When Bart arrives at the house to move in, Doug generously tells Bart, “You can stay here forever.” Bart insists that his stay will be temporary, because he has a potential job lined up, and he plans to get his own place as soon as he can afford it. Bart gets the job, but it’s not his ideal gig.

Before his meltdown, Bart was a screenwriter. The first job that he gets after checking out of the psychiatric facility is writing for a medical supply catalogue. The interview is a blandly written scene showing the office manager named Larry (played by Jim Rash) reading a sample of a screenplay that Bart wrote about a man who has a nervous breakdown after his fiancée left him.

Larry remarks that although the screenplay is impressively realistic, catalogue writing is very different because it’s a form of advertising/marketing. Larry asks Bart if he’s up for this type of work, since catalogue writing isn’t as creatively exciting as writing a screenplay. Bart assures Larry that he wants the job. And then Larry shows Bart a catheter and tells Bart that the job includes describing how to use a catheter. If this movie were a sitcom, that’s about the moment the fake laugh track would play.

One day, Bart decides to go by himself to a local arthouse movie theater that’s playing his favorite film: the 1979 satire “Being There,” starring Peter Sellers. Bart falls asleep during the movie. And when the movie ends, he is woken up by a woman named Vienna (played by Zoë Chao), another customer who was in the room. As he leaves the theater, Vienna runs after him because Bart left behind his denim jacket and a half-empty bottle of liquor. She returns these items to him. He thanks her and they begin talking.

Now that Bart and Vienna have had this “meet cute” moment, it’s only a matter of time before they go through all the clichés that so many other romantic dramas like this tend to have when two young and attractive people inevitably get together. Someone in the would-be couple is socially awkward and introverted, while the other is bold and extroverted. These opposites attract and fall for each other, but then someone is reluctant to make a commitment. In this case, it’s because there’s a “big secret” that could ruin the relationship.

Immediately after returning Bart’s jacket and liquor bottle to him, Vienna tells him that she’s visiting Los Angeles. She asks Bart where she can get some of the liquor he has, because Vienna tells Bart that he looks like he could be fun. Judging by the way she’s smiling and flirting with him, it’s obvious she’s giving him a chance to ask her out on a date.

But gloomy Bart is too oblivious to these signals and tells Vienna about two nearby bars. She then says enthusiastically, “Let’s go!” And that’s when it dawns on Bart that Vienna is attracted to him. She laughs at all of his cheesy jokes and celebrity impersonations too. (Bart does lukewarm imitations of Al Pacino and Jimmy Stewart.)

The corny situations continue when they walk through a park and see some kids running past them with some sparklers. Vienna is fascinated by this sight, as if she’s never seen sparklers before. Bart is a little surprised that Vienna is acting as if sparklers are incredible inventions, and he starts to wonder if Vienna has led a very sheltered life.

During their walk through the park, he buys two sparklers from the kids and gives the sparklers to Vienna. And then, Bart and Vienna run around the park with the sparklers. How old are these people again? Twelve?

Vienna and Bart then go bar-hopping and discuss their favorite pop culture and guilty pleasures. Bart confesses that he’s watched “Being There” about 100 times since he first saw it a few years ago. However, Bart can’t really explain why he loves the movie so much, other than that seeing it makes him feel better about his life. Vienna does a terrible impersonation of Robert De Niro in “Taxi Driver,” for no other reason than to show Bart that she can do celebrity impersonations too.

Bart then tells Vienna about his mother dying of cancer the year before and how he’s still grieving. He also tells Vienna about the painful breakup with his ex-fiancée and how it’s left him in a dark emotional place. Vienna shows some sympathy, as an indication that she and Bart are starting to have an emotional connection other than doing bad mimicry of celebrities in movie scenes.

“Long Weekend” has a very self-aware moment when Bart, who’s starting to think that Vienna is too good to be true, asks her: “Are you for real? Are you one of those Manic Pixie Dream Girls?” Well, yes, in fact she is a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, a well-known movie trope of a quirky, upbeat female character who comes along to cheer up the male protagonist while he’s going through a tough time in his life. Just because “Long Weekend” brings up this Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope in a line of self-referencing dialogue, that doesn’t make the glib way that this trope is handled in the movie any better.

Bart notices that Vienna has some unusual quirks: She doesn’t own a cell phone, she says she left her ID at home, and she’s carrying around a huge wad of cash. Vienna explains to Bart that she has a lot of cash with her because her bank card isn’t working. Some more alcohol is consumed, Vienna and Bart play some pool, and they take pictures together in a photo booth. And when Bart walks Vienna back to the motel where she’s staying, he gives her his phone number, and they end up sleeping together.

What’s very contradictory about “Long Weekend” is that it wants people to believe that Vienna and Bart are a perfect match and it’s “love at first date.” But during their first date, Bart is very self-absorbed and doesn’t ask Vienna hardly anything about herself. It isn’t until the next day, when Bart happily tells Doug about Vienna, that Bart realizes that he doesn’t know basic things about Vienna.

Bart doesn’t know where she’s from, what she does for a living, and what she likes to do in her free time besides watching movies and drinking at bars. These are the kinds of things that two strangers should talk about on a first date if they’re interested in a romance beyond sexual attraction. It makes you wonder why this movie is trying so hard to convince viewers that this is supposed to be some grand love story when, by all indications, this was an impulsive hookup.

The day after Bart and Vienna first have sex, Bart describes Vienna to Doug as if Vienna isn’t just a one-night stand but could possibly be his next big love. Therefore, it’s odd that Bart doesn’t really ask her how long she’ll be in town after their first night together. If this relationship is supposed to blossom, Bart isn’t curious enough about Vienna to ask her how far away she lives. It’s an example of how there needed to be significant improvements to this movie’s screenplay.

Of course, Doug does see Vienna again. He goes back to the motel and asks her the questions that he should have asked before, including why she’s visiting Los Angeles. But she’s deliberately vague. In answer to Bart’s questions, Vienna says, “I work for this government agency. I work up north. I came to town to escape … work, everything, my mom.”

Vienna says that her mother has cancer, and the stress of taking care of her is what motivated Vienna to take this getaway trip. Just as Bart and Vienna start to form an emotional bond over their knowing what it’s like to have a mother with cancer, he freaks out when he sees that Vienna has thousands of dollars of cash in her purse. He demands to know if Vienna is hiding from the law or is up to something illegal. And that’s when Vienna tells Bart her big secret.

The rest of “Long Weekend” is a bit of a slog, as this secret affects the relationship between Bart and Vienna. There’s also a couple of more plot twists, with one more predictable than the other. Because Bart and Vienna got together so quickly after barely knowing each other, there are many parts of the movie that make the relationship look like it’s based more on lust than true love. For example, instead of dealing with the problems caused by Vienna’s secret, she just suggests to Bart that they have sex.

The movie is fairly problematic in how Bart and Doug constantly describe Vienna as a “girl.” They do not use the word “woman” to describe her. The couples in this movie are supposed to be in their mid-to-late 30s, but they act like Vienna is straight out of a sorority party and her purpose in life is to lift Bart out of his depression.

There’s very little thought in this story about Vienna’s problems (and she has quite a few), because it’s mostly about Bart’s wants and needs. Bart does an act of kindness to help Vienna with one of her problems. But then, the movie goes back to trying to make the audience believe that Bart’s wants and needs should matter more than Vienna’s, instead of them being equal partners.

And there’s a very strange scene of Doug and Rachel in their kitchen, shortly after they found out that Bart and Vienna hooked up. Bart is there too, when Rachel tells her kindergarten-age son Teddy, “Uncle Bart got laid!” And then Doug repeats it to Teddy, as if it’s the most normal thing in the world to blab about a family friend’s sex life to a child of that age. The scene is supposed to be funny, but the comedy falls flat.

Fans of the ABC comedy series “Happy Endings” (which was on the air from 2011 to 2013) might be delighted to see “Happy Endings” co-stars Wayans and Wilson on screen together again. But their Doug and Rachel characters in “Long Weekend” are underdeveloped and written as a sitcom couple in a movie that’s supposed to be a romantic drama. And almost all of Doug and Rachel’s conversations in the movie are either stale one-liners or talking to Bart about his love life.

As for Wittrock and Chao, they certainly make an attractive-looking couple, and there’s some chemistry between them, but not enough to make it convincing that Vienna and Bart have fallen madly and passionately in love with each other. Chao has a lot of on-screen charisma (and Vienna is supposed to be more exuberant than Bart), but there’s a level of immaturity that Vienna and Bart have that makes their romance look very “only in a movie” phony. Maybe if their characters were in their teens or 20s, it might be more believable. But Vienna and Bart both look like they’ve experienced too much of life to act so willfully naïve about love, dating and romance.

And since Bart and Vienna got together so quickly in the movie, there’s no “will they or won’t they” suspense. And that means the movie drags out in very uninteresting ways, as Bart and Vienna go on some very stereotypical dates in the limited time that they have together. These dates could have been opportunities to bring more depth to the characters of Bart and Vienna, but these dates are superficial and actually quite monotonous.

The dialogue throughout “Long Weekend” is very trite, and the story skips over a lot of details that would make certain plot developments believable. The direction of the movie is pedestrian at best. Vienna and Bart barely know each other before they jump into a love relationship. By the end of this hackneyed and derivative movie, viewers will feel like they barely know these characters too.

Sony Pictures Entertainment’s Stage 6 Films released “Long Weekend” in U.S. cinemas on March 12, 2021.