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The Longest Week is a derivative but promising feature debut

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B

The Longest Week

Director: Peter Glanz
Runtime: 86 minutes
Rating: PG-13
Cast: Jason Bateman, Olivia Wilde, Billy Crudup

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Playing spot the influence with Peter Glanz’s debut feature, The Longest Week, isn’t terribly difficult. His symmetrical compositions, fetishistic close-ups of objects, and period ambiguity (the film seems to be set simultaneously in the present and at some indefinite point in the past) are straight out of Wes Anderson. The rhythms of Glanz’s dialogue, along with a general sense of archaic decorum and an overwhelming concern with money and status, suggest that he’s a big fan of Whit Stillman. Furthermore, no one can score a movie almost exclusively to light jazz while indulging a romanticized, exclusively affluent view of Manhattan without being compared to Woody Allen. (Omniscient, literary narration calls to mind both Allen and Anderson, via Vicky Cristina Barcelona and The Royal Tenenbaums, respectively.) Aggressively derivative though The Longest Week is, however, it’s clearly the work not of a lazy thief, but of a raw talent who’s still struggling to find his own voice. In the meantime, his impressions are pretty darn impressive.

As the narrator (Larry Pine) solemnly explains, Conrad Valmont (Jason Bateman) is a middle-aged wastrel who’s lived a frivolous life at the expense of his rich but perpetually absent parents. When they suddenly cut Conrad off during a messy separation (abroad), he’s forced to move in with his best friend, Dylan (Billy Crudup), a fellow member of what Stillman’s Metropolitan gang called the Urban Haute Bourgeoisie. This arrangement would probably have worked out fine, if not for the fact that both men have designs upon Beatrice (Olivia Wilde), who’s ostensibly dating Dylan but recently gave Conrad her phone number when they met by chance on the subway. It’s not exactly the typical romantic triangle, however, as becomes apparent when Dylan’s anger at Conrad’s betrayal of their friendship takes the form of a gifted Volvo—his standard kiss-off to women in whom he’s lost interest. Meanwhile, Conrad’s efforts at hiding his poverty from Beatrice become increasingly strained, to the point where he even considers working.

Expanded precisely 75 percent from Glanz’s 2007 short “A Relationship In Four Days,” The Longest Week likewise attempts to say something about the speed at which contemporary courtship progresses, compressing a trajectory that would normally take months into half of a fortnight. That conceit doesn’t really come across, though—the film plays exactly like an ordinary romance, except that the elapsed time between scenes happens to be shorter than usual. What makes it distinctive is its sardonically whimsical tone, which is influenced as much by European cinema in general as it is by the other filmmakers mentioned above. (One could also mention Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha, which has a similar nouvelle vague feel.) Glanz is very much aware that he’s going to take some heat on this front: Near the end of the movie, a writer is asked, “How do you respond to the criticism that your novel is inherently derivative of the works of Fitzgerald and Edith Wharton?” He politely replies, “Thank you.” Hard to argue with that.

At times, The Longest Week genuinely does takes its aping too far. A scene in which Conrad and Beatrice are appalled to overhear strangers calling Picasso “pretentious and adolescent,” for example, pushes past homage—it’s just a straight rip-off of the famous movie-queue bit from Annie Hall, minus Marshall McLuhan. Mostly, though, Glanz merely borrows various flavors from his heroes, and he mixes them up thoroughly enough to inspire hope that, like Paul Thomas Anderson (who started off more or less as Scorsese plus Altman), he may eventually concoct something unique. At the very least, he’s got a similarly good eye for offbeat casting—one wouldn’t necessarily think of Bateman, Wilde, or Crudup for a project like this, but all three actors thrive in the artificial atmosphere. (Jenny Slate, on the other hand, seems wholly out of place in the tiny role of Beatrice’s best friend, so some fine-tuning may still be required.) This particular film is an overly familiar trifle, cozily amusing, but it’ll be very interesting to see what Glanz does next.