July 3, 2011
Andrew Haigh’s film Weekend concerns Russell (Tom Cullen) and Glen (Chris New), two young British men who meet at a bar one Friday night and embark on a 48 hour affair. Haigh’s emotionally honest scripting and the pitch-perfect performances by Cullen and New lend poignancy and unexpected intimacy to this story of a brief but powerful affair.
The film is structured from Russell’s point of view. Languid and reserved, he works as a lifeguard and spends most of his time hanging out with old friends (many of whom are married with children) and getting high in his cramped apartment. Leaving a party early, Russell heads to a bar, looking for a casual hook-up. The scene in the club--as Russell progresses from buzzed to drunk, from sweaty to anxious and horny to hopeful--is a showcase for Tom Cullen, who does some very good, realistic drunk acting. Finally, Russell meets Glen and they go to bed together.
At this point in the film, Weekend has done little to distinguish itself from a competent but unremarkable indie film. However, writer/director/editor Andrew Haigh is interested in fleshing out characters who are more than gay hook-up cliches. Instead of showing us the sex, we listen as Glen and Russell try to piece together the muddled recollections of the night before. Glen begins interviewing Russell on his experiences, why he picked up Glen, what he remembers of their encounter, etc. Glen draws out the shy Russell and makes him narrate their relationship. We learn that Glen is an art student who records his lovers’ stories as an ongoing art project. Whereas Russell seems slightly embarrassed by his behavior, Glen recognizes the potential for discovery and reinvention in anonymous, casual sex; it’s something he sees as a site for constructive experimentation and self-discovery, which he in turn channels into art.
Russell is intrigued by Glen, as are we. Chris New and Tom Cullen have terrific chemistry as lovers who are often unsteady and hesitant to indulge in the strong and immediate attraction they share. Over the next 48 hours, the two young men spend most of their time together, having sex and conversation. Haigh’s treatment of their conversations—these are essentially strangers, after all—always rings true, especially when Russell begins to open up and share his interests, insights, and personal details. One scene that particularly rings true: giving a tour of his tiny kitchen, Glen observes Russell’s many vintage and antique objects, observing he must love old things. Glen simply watches Russell react to his observation, smiling slightly and confirming Glen’s conclusions. It’s a simple scene that elegantly demonstrates the mens’ burgeoning intimacy: Russell loves old things and Glen loves learning what Russell loves.
Russell’s love of old things is reflected in the city of Nottingham itself, an old city full of ancient English history and young, aimless English people. Weekend was filmed entirely in Nottingham, in many of the same locations as the 1960 Kitchen Sink classic Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. With its frank depiction of sex, lower/working class characters, naturalistic acting and docu-realist aesthetic, Weekend is a genuine descendent of the post-war British Kitchen Sink dramas which often focused on a young, male malcontent and the schism between emerging social issues and the conservative status quo. Russell and Glen are as shiftless and reckless as the genre’s earlier protagonists, but Kitchen Sink’s “angry young man” has been supplanted by less self-assured ambiguities about masculine and homosexual identity.
Instead of labor disputes or class conflict, Weekend’s social drama concerns issues of gay identity. Although technically out of the closet, Russell is uncomfortable expressing his sexuality in public or discussing relationship woes with his straight friends. In one of the film’s most touching scenes, Russell confesses to Glen, “When I’m alone, I’m happy being gay.” The pregnant pause after that revelation speaks to Russell’s—and the film’s—central conflict: how internalized self-hatred can confuse and cloud understanding of self. Unlike more outré “gay films” which foreground being gay as the pivotal plot point and single character trait, Weekend opts for a subtler and more truthful treatment of the subject: What does “being gay” even mean? The film has the respect for its characters to treat them as individuals who happen to be gay, not as “gay characters.” Whereas Glen has strong ideas about political activism, Russell prefers to keep his head in the sand. It’s unusual to witness a film in which two gay men debate—and disagree--on the issue of gay marriage, but Weekend treats Russell and Glen like human beings, a monolithic representation of a single community.
As a love story, Weekend often achieves moments of genuine romance and heartbreak. Even as it delves into romantic movie cliches (following your lover to the train station for a final farewell), the film never abandons its realism: while Russell and Glen share a tender goodbye, off-screen characters heckle them with derogatory catcalls. Perhaps we root for their relationship, as brief and superficial as it is, because they are facing stacked odds at every turn. Haigh never gives the impression that Russell or Glen will see each other again, or even that what they have experienced would have lasted the long haul. The what-ifs of their relationship ultimately are not as important as their shared experience, how two young men came together for a single weekend neither will soon forget.
A delicate and daring drama directed by Andrew Haigh and featuring breakout performances by Tom Cullen and Chris New, WEEKEND follows Russell (Cullen) who, after randomly picking up an artist Glen (New) at a nightclub on a Friday night, unexpectedly spends most of the next 48 hours with him in bedrooms and bars, telling stories and having sex. As they spend more time together, sharing snippets of their lives, they begin to reveal the things that hold them back as much as push them forward and develop a connection that will resonate throughout their lives. WEEKEND is an affecting and naturalistic romance, a beautiful exploration of how two people can come together only briefly, yet impact each other in a profound way.
Starring Tom Cullen & Chris New
Produced by Tristan Goligher
Cinematography by Ula Pontikos
Edited by Hakan Warn
Directed, Written and Edited by Andrew Haigh
For more information on the film, including festival screenings and theatrical release dates, please refer to its website here.