Weekend: Andrew Haigh’s Gay Romance, Jury and Audience Award Winner

Andrew Haigh’s “Weekend,” which won the Audience Award at SXSW and the Jury Award at OUTFest, succeeds on two fronts: it is one of the best gay films in years and one of the better indie romances in a while.

Grade: B+ (**** out of *****)

Bearing resemblance to such films as “Chungking Express” (1994), “Lost in Translation” (2003), and “Before Sunset” (2004), “Weekend” is a heady love story in which a set, pre-determined time limit gives the narrative much of its drive.

In this case, not long after Russell (Tom Cullen) and Glen (Chris New) hook up at a gay bar in Nottingham, England, Glen announces that he will be leaving for two years to America at the end of the weekend. If their connection is something neither of them is going to easily walk away from, then the couple needs to acknowledge the depth of this connection before the clock runs out.

Gay Directors, Gay Films? By Emanuel Levy (Columbia University Press, August 2015).

This challenge falls mostly on the shoulders of Russell, the more romantic of the two. Glen is bitterer, telling Russell flatly at one point, “I don’t do boyfriends.”

The truth is that Glen has had serious relationships, has been burned one too many times, and is now quite cautious about getting into any new situation. He is well aware that he is, technically speaking, “on the rebound.”

Haigh, in addition to directing, has written a fine screenplay, which generates ample drama from the time limit premise and the two men’s competing personalities. While Russell is not comfortable being as “out” as Glen, Glen is the more self-protective of the two in terms of his real feelings.

Haigh plays with the idea of being “closeted,” making the valuable point that there are many levels to hiding our genuine selves. There are worse things than being closed off about our sexual lives—for instance, being in love with someone and never telling him.

The two men contrast in other ways as well. Russell works as a lifeguard, seeming to have few ambitions in life, while Glen is a motivated would-be artist.

His current project is taping interviews with his partners about their sexual encounters. Glen’s morning-after interview of Russell is the party starter for what essentially becomes a forty-eight-hour marathon conversation that is compressed into a tight ninety minutes by Haigh.

Most interesting, as the film progresses, is what the two men share at a deeper level. Russell, it turns out, keeps a diary that is in many ways similar to Glen’s project.

Both men are compelled to record their sexual experiences in a journey of self-discovery, in a search for something more lasting.

“Weekend” reaches an emotional high point with one of the best-written scenes of the year: after a coked-up night of small arguments, Glen asks Russell to pretend that Glen is his father and to come out to him. This actually affords Glen the opportunity, pretending to be Russell’s supportive dad, to express his own growing love for his new friend—a love that he is afraid, despite his general bravado, to name.

The drug usage is heavy in “Weekend,” which raises concerns about the viability of this fresh relationship. Can it really be a healthy love if Russell and Glen have spent most of their weekend together drunk, stoned, and high on cocaine? Haigh may be trying to offer commentary on how drugs have become entwined in our modern love lives, but if so, he does not make his point clear enough.

The director also risks underlining the age-old stereotype of gays as drug fiends in a film that in many other ways upends Hollywood gay clichés.

Haigh cleverly sets up the film’s finale as a classic train station farewell. This is a simple romance like any other, he argues, just with two men instead of the regular heterosexual coupling.

It is not necessarily a happy ending, but it is not tragic either. What a relief, after gay romances like “Brokeback Mountain” (2005) and “Milk” (2008), that both men make it out of this movie alive.

The film is perfectly cast. These two actors embody their roles so well that it becomes impossible to imagine anyone else in these parts. Although both are relative unknowns, they expertly hit many subtle points as they convey the trust solidifying between them in fits and starts.

The cinematography by Urszula Pontikos is another reason to see this movie. She carefully reflects the increasing intimacy, eventually getting the audience into bed with Russell and Glen.

There are also a number of memorable shots, particularly the final shot, where the characters are shown at great distances. This works to highlight their ordinariness: they could be anyone you see every day in your town.

The sex scenes in “Weekend” step right up the precipice of becoming graphic but always keep it tasteful. The film of course has more gay sex than general audiences may be accustomed to seeing, but it is never exploitative. The sex here is necessary to show how the two become as close as they do in such a short amount of time.

This is an effective love story for any adult audience.

Cast

Russell – Tom Cullen

Glen – Chris New

Credits

A Sundance Selects release.

Directed and written by Andrew Haigh.

Produced by Tristan Goligher.

Cinematography, Urszula Pontikos.

Editing, Andrew Haigh.

Original Music, James Edward Barker.

Running time: 96 minutes.