By Don Simpson | September 28, 2007
Director: Joe Swanberg
Writer: Joe Swanberg, Greta Gerwig, Kent Osborne
Starring: Greta Gerwig, Kent Osborne, Andrew Bujalski
Hannah (Greta Gerwig) finds herself forever restless in relationships as she continually falls prey to “the grass is always greener” scenario. She aimlessly dives headfirst into new relationships without thought or logic while hopelessly (and simultaneously) floundering to break free of old ones. Everything Hannah does, especially when relating to the opposite sex, is done the hard way (hence she “takes the stairs”). She leaves a wake of destruction as she tears friends apart and creates all kinds of uncomfortable situations at work.
Hannah and her cohorts are members of a new wave of slackers, one is being not-so-kindly genre-fled as “Mumblecore.” The characters are primarily unmarried, Caucasian, presumably college-educated and totally stuck in a monotonous rut. Most of all, like all good modern Americans, they just don’t seem to care much about anything. They are wordy conversationalists, yet far from intellectuals; extremely self-reflexive (as are the films which contain them) and utilize pop culture references to no end.
Director Joe Swanberg’s Hannah Takes the Stairs continues along the same stylistic vein as his other two features (2005’s Kissing on the Mouth and 2006’s LOL). His films are naturally bare with unbridled honesty and simplicity, combined with a refreshingly nonchalant attitude toward sexuality and nudity; Swanberg’s output is more akin to European cinema than anything created on these shores.
Aesthetically, HTTS may be saturated with Eric Rohmer and Hal Hartley’s influences, but this is Swanberg’s first success developing a truly comedic storyline and it has Woody Allen (circa Manhattan and Annie Hall) written all over it. He plays with the surreal by throwing strange and absurd moments into otherwise “normal” situations, of which the trumpets-in-the-bathtub scene is the most memorable and brilliant.
Despite the quirkiness, the dialogue and situations are brutally frank and realistic. A clever social commentary on 20-something’s caught in the crossroads of life ensues as HTTS repeatedly questions the purpose of relationships and the meaning of sex. There is a dark and winding road to romantic happiness in the somewhat pessimistic eyes of Swanberg. There are many trips and falls and bumps and bruises along the way, causing many to falter, fail, and even question one’s own sanity. The best we can do is try and try again – and that is something that Hannah is good at.
Captured in an unadulterated cinema vérité aesthetic, HTTS is much more real than any episode of MTV’s The Real World. HTTS is a finely crafted, yet entirely improvised story by an extremely capable cast – many of whom are “Mumblecore” directors themselves, including Ry Russo-Young (Orphans), Andrew Bujalski (Mutual Appreciation) and Mark Duplass (The Puffy Chair). Despite the improvised dialogue, this feels like Swanberg’s most directed and controlled effort to date. It is definitely his most mature.