Lo-fi indie filmmaker Joe Swanberg debuted in 2005 with Kissing On The Mouth, a feature more memorable for its explicit sex scenes than its insufferably "natural" conversations about relationships and responsibility. By comparison, Swanberg's Hannah Takes The Stairs is a significant step forward: It gives just enough structure to a slice-of-life sketch about two small-time video producers and their fetching assistant. Greta Gerwig plays the assistant, a young professional who still dresses and acts like a college sophomore. She keeps toys on her coffee table, plays the trumpet in her bathtub, and flits from boyfriend to boyfriend. Her conversations often end with her staring dewy-eyed into the distance and making pronouncements like "Maybe I love things too much."
Viewers' tolerance for Hannah Takes The Stairs will depend greatly on how much they can stand the characters. Make no mistake: Gerwig and her suitors are definitely ninnies, seemingly incapable of carrying on a meaningful conversation, in spite of years of higher education. Swanberg isn't holding them up for ridicule, but he isn't lionizing them either. And he isn't showing people or situations that don't actually exist. Like his fellow "mumblecore" director Andrew Bujalski—who appears in Hannah as Gerwig's second boyfriend—Swanberg is accurately charting the social rituals of the young and inarticulate.
Hannah Takes The Stairs doesn't rise to the level of Bujalski's breakthrough feature Mutual Appreciation, mainly because Swanberg doesn't have Bujalski's eye. But he's developed a similar sense of unforced realism, a lot of which is provided by Bujalski, who makes his muttered non-dialogue consistently funny in his role as an inexplicably popular blogger. And the movie would be nothing without Gerwig, one of the rare improvisatory actresses who cuts right to the truth of a scene, and doesn't try to feign confidence by filling her camera time with a lot of chatter. She lives in this movie, and while her character's "type" is annoying, Swanberg frames her in such a way that she becomes, if not likeable, then at least familiar.