Director Appreciation Week 2 Review: Hannah Takes the Stairs (2007)

The vital trio (perhaps quartet is you include Gerwig) of mumblecore, Swanberg, Duplass and Bujalski, unite for one of the most popular films of the genre. It follows Greta Gerwig as the titular Hannah and her friendships and relationships with Matt (Kent Osborne), Paul (Andrew Bujalski) and Mike (Mark Duplass). She works with Paul and Matt, but they spend little time actually working and the majority of their time goofing around. Through this we see Hannah’s lovelife shift and change. Hannah perfectly encapsulates the awkwardness of breaking up when you are unsure if it is the correct decision to make, and the uncomfortable, directionless aftermath of such a choice. She flits around from relationship to relationship in what is a very slow tale, even by mumblecore standards. Unlike in other Swanberg works, we don’t dive as deep into the troubles of Hannah as perhaps one would first think, although there is a particularly nice moment towards the end. Thankfully though, it is saved from being a tedious affair by the work of the actors. It requires realistic, relatable characters who can be entertaining even when the plot is moving at a snail’s pace, and thankfully Swanberg found these qualities in his four main actors. They carry what little story there is, and they do it expertly well. No matter what side of the story they are on, the work of these actors allows each and every character to be empathetic to the audience. We root for Mike and then Hannah, and then Matt and Hannah, and then Paul and so on and so forth.

At one point Hannah mentions how she struggles with chronic dissatisfaction. That is the real story of Hannah Takes the Stairs. The struggles of feeling unsatisfied in relationships and the perhaps juxtapositional struggles of wanting to simply be good enough. These are themes Swanberg would revisit time and time again in his movies, but this, his third effort, was particularly relatable if not exactly thrilling.
It appears that his work has only gotten better as he has become a more seasoned director. Out of the four reviewed this week, his newest films are much superior to his oldest, with Nights and Weekends sitting at the top of the pile.

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