Hannah Takes the Stairs

2007. Joe Swanberg

Joe Swanberg is only 25 years old yet he is already celebrating the release of his third feature length film (and the first with theatrical distribution). That alone is pretty staggering and as one of the people I saw the movie with pointed it, Hannah Takes the Stairs looks and feels like a movie made by someone who’s made movies. There’s not much in terms of formal errors or experimentation or, put another way, Swanberg knew what he wanted out of a scene, he knew how to get it and he knew his strengths and weaknesses. What results is clearly his most accomplished film film to date, but not necessarily his best.

I became a huge fan of LOL at the 2006 South by Southwest Film Festival despite having doubts about the film due to the title and the artwork. What can I say? I judge books by covers. It quickly won me over though and I watched the final thirty minutes of it with my heart on the floor in front of my seat and my mouth agape. Now I view at as a sort of poster child for the argument that a good story supercedes any and all technical shortcomings when it comes to film. It’s a really thoughtful and provocative piece of work and a tough act to follow and Hannah Takes the Stairs, while technically far superior, falls a little short to me in terms of content.

My overall feeling is that all the performances are great. Greta Gerwig, Mark Duplass, Andrew Bujalski and Kent Osborne all have great timing and rise to the challenge of improvising their scenes with ease, giving each character a distinct and charming voice. And some of the scenes are just downright dynamite. I saw things in this film that I had never seen captured before and scenes that made me almost gasp with their honesty, which reminded me of the first time I saw All the Real Girls and felt the same way. But when it’s all said and done, I came away from the movie feeling like the story motivated the characters and not the other way around. It’s a little bit of a harsh thing to say about a film that was completely improvised and had no story to begin with, but the relationships seemed to begin and end when it was convenient for the movie more so than the characters in a rare feeling of calculation.

That’s the only reason why I would call LOL a better film, or at least one that resonates more personally to me. Regardless, Swanberg has become a force to be reckoned with in the independent film scene and I am proud to support his work. The performances he captures (and sometimes gives himself) are unrivaled in mainstream cinema and his filmmaking is only improving with each venture. Check out Hannah Takes the Stairs for a glimpse of what film could and should be.

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