Directed by: Andrew Haigh
Written by: Andrew Haigh (screenplay)
Starring: Tom Cullen and Chris New
Weekend is a film that many have used to herald the honesty of independent cinema; a film tackling the subject of homosexuality where the characters are no longer grappling with that identity, but arguing about it. Andrew Haigh’s debut feature is an incessantly political work about being gay in contemporary England whose dueling moralities surface through Russell (Tom Cullen) and Glen (Guy New).
Haigh begins and ends his feature with Russell, who is seen going over to hang out with his friends at a dinner party before going to a gay club. That dinner scene is important in that it reveals absolutely nothing about Russell’s sexuality. The camerawork is deliberately grungy, evoking a sense of documentary-like realism in that dinner scene and many of the ones that follow. On a subway ride, Russell and Glen are filmed conversing as passengers bob and weave in front of the frame while the train hurtles down the tracks.
After Russell does his own hurtling with Glen after their night at the gay bar, the two sense a spark after waking up in bed together the next morning (we never see what was supposed to be their one-night stand but we see their other sexual encounters). Cullen and New are both fantastic at realizing these characters within the often overly-didactic script. The way New shows Glen tensing up awkwardly as he asks Russell to meet him at a bar for drinks speaks volumes more to the relationship than the intense debates they have about their identity comforts.
Glen is a very open person about his homosexuality. He is an art student, and extremely confrontational when it comes to the identity politics of his life. Russell, on the other hand, is not openly gay to his friends, nor does he enjoy public displays of affection. He is not repressed in the sense of many other gay film or television characters; though he clearly struggles with openness, he is not self-loathing.
Weekend would’ve been more successful as an illustration of a blooming relationship without a conversation about the politics of the issue spliced throughout. Though the script has two well formulated ideals in each of its characters, the recent masterwork Certified Copy showed that you can have a deeply romantic film with an interesting premise that also has a huge ethical debate at its center.
As far as debuts go, though, Haigh must be given credit for how fully realized his Brits are. He is a writer/director with the clear capability of both good writing and good visual storytelling, but his passion for the politics of the situation interferes with the realism he tries to establish here. The scene that sums the film up best is one of the later scenes between Russell and Glen. Their intense conversation about gay marriage devolve into genuine looks of emotion and a scene of the passionate beginnings of sex. Because Haigh clashes the personal so explicitly with the political, his debate loses out to the eroticism on the screen.
For all that clashing, though, Weekend is an uncompromised, sad film because the love is unrequited by the choice of its characters instead of societal norms. It takes place within a single weekend, where they both learn a lot about themselves and each other and then go their separate ways. Hollywood forces many couples together at the end of its pestilent romances, though they are never gay couples. Weekend attacks the typical rom-com on almost every conceivable level, and though its results are mixed, it’s still much better for it.