Some movies benefit from good timing. Such is the case with Steve Bailone’s feature debut about a whirlwind romance suffused with sci-fi underpinnings. In normal times, one might be tempted to poke holes at the plot contrivances and fantastical elements of Long Weekend. But after a year of pandemic-related social isolation, the film instead provides a moving reminder of the simple joys of making a meaningful emotional and physical connection with another human being.
Finn Wittrock, often seen to more malevolent effect via his roles in such Ryan Murphy projects as American Horror Story and Ratched, plays Bart, a financially struggling writer dealing with various emotional and health issues, the latter demonstrated by a series of concerned phone messages from his doctor. After drowning his sorrows in booze while taking refuge in a movie theater on a sunny afternoon, he meets the charming Vienna (Zoë Chao of Love Life and The High Note), who promptly asks him to take her to a nearby bar.
A sly charmer.
Bart is immediately taken with the bubbly, forthright stranger, feeling comfortable enough to confess to her that his life is currently in shambles. But there are some things about her that make him suspicious. She insists on paying for their dates, displaying thick wads of cash in the process, and she claims not to own a cell phone.
Eventually, she fesses up after he keeps voicing his concerns. She tells him (spoiler alert) that she’s come from the future — from the year 2052, in fact, and that she works for a secret branch of the NSA. And that she’s traveled to the past to buy stocks to raise the money to fund her mother’s cancer surgery. (Apparently, we still won’t have a single-payer health care system thirty years from now, a dispiriting proposition.)
In one of the film’s more outlandish conceits, Vienna convinces a skeptical Bart by singing a pop tune from her favorite band in the future, named Long Weekend. He immediately peppers her with questions of the utmost urgency, such as whether George R.R. Martin will ever finish another book. But while Bart is now sold on her story, he’s unable to convince his best friend (Damon Wayans Jr.) that he’s not somehow being conned. And then a traumatic incident occurs that puts everything that’s preceded it in a very different context.
It’s an unusually bold conceit for a romantic comedy, and it’s not one that the tyro director/screenwriter fully pulls off. But if, like Bart, you’re willing to suspend your disbelief, it works anyway, thanks in large part to the breezy comic dialogue that reflects Bailone’s primary creative experiences as a writer/producer for sitcoms including The Goldbergs, The Michael J. Fox Show and Community. Adding to the fun are the amusing cameos by such veterans of those shows as Wendi McLendon-Covey and Jim Rash.
Much credit must also go to the lead performers, who manage to make us fully care about their characters. Wittrock, who usually plays more assertive, macho roles, movingly conveys Bart’s vulnerability and neediness, which is crucial to our accepting his eagerness to take Vienna at her word. And the hugely appealing Chao brings just enough edginess to her character — who indeed comes perilously close to Bart’s initial impression that she seems like a “manic pixie dream girl” — to make the burgeoning romance seem more real than saccharine.
Clever enough to not take his plot too seriously while fully indulging in its sentimentality, the filmmaker has crafted an undeniably feel-good romantic comedy. You’ll have to try hard not to fall under its spell.
Available in theaters
Production companies: Invisible Pictures, Park Pictures, Fifty Seventh Street Productions, Rebelle Media
Distributor: Stage 6 Films
Cast: Finn Wittrock, Zoe Chao, Casey Wilson, Jim Rash, Damon Wayans Jr., Wendi McLendon-Covey
Director/screenwriter: Steve Basilone
Producers: Deanna Barillari, Laura Lewis, Theodore Dunlap, Sam Bisbee, Audrey Rosenberg, Jess Jacobs
Executive producers: Franklin Carson, Lance Accord, Jackie Kelman Bisbee
Director of photography: Felipe Vara de Rey
Production designer: Jen Dunlap
Editors: Libby Cuenin, Stephanie Kaznocha
Composer: Lauren Culjak
Costume designer: Emily Moran
Casting: Kate Keller
Rated R, 91 min.