Review by Rumsey Taylor
Posted on 21 March 2007
Source 35mm print
Hannah Takes the Stairs is credited to nine people. This gesture pronounces an aspect of collaboration that ensures the film’s inspirations; despite how sophomoric you may find its characters, or how indifferent you may be to their everyday conflicts, your response is simply one against the nine responsible for the making of this film.
Some of the participants contribute to the film’s pitiable score, Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, rendered from a pair of trumpets that haven’t benefited from rehearsal in years. Many of those involved are also directors: this is Joe Swanberg’s third feature in as many years, and the cast includes Andrew Bujalski, Ry Russo Young, and Mark Duplass, each of whom has screened work at South by Southwest. Still — and curiously — it is directed so as to not look directed, and acted to look impromptu—the actors do all but retain their real names. All of the dialogue in Hannah Takes the Stairs is improvised, propelling it forward with nuance, unpredictability, and non-sequiturs.
For that matter, this film is all nuance, unpredictability, and non-sequiturs. It is comprised exclusively of conversations, in bathrooms, kitchens, or apartment doorways, and the precocious Hannah is at the center of all of them, a hub to which every other character is intermittently connected. The film begins with her at the impending end of one relationship, and observes as her neuroses mount on the onset of another. There’s no sympathy for her condition, merely a sort of compulsive interest in what she will do next or whom she’ll be with.
Hannah Takes the Stairs decidedly lacks narrative and closure, but it works very well at moderating an environment of casual, if mundane, affairs. It has immense personality, but is not overly compassionate, conjuring the viewer’s emotions with lenience rather than intensity. The film concludes with Hannah joining her latest beau in the bathtub, both with only a trumpet in another pitiful rehearsal, projecting a score that would surely sound better on another instrument.