Andrew Haigh’s challenging film takes a contemporary look at homosexuality in modern Britain over the course of a weekend spent with two twenty-something men from Nottingham.
Russell (Tom Cullen) is an introverted, quiet, somewhat shy, twenty-year-old from Nottingham. To earn a living he works at the local swimming baths as a lifeguard. For pleasure, he smokes pot and hangs out with his friends. He’s also gay. Feigning tiredness, he leaves his friend’s flat one Friday night, takes the bus into town, and hits the local gay scene. At a club he meets free-spirit Glen (Chris New). They end up going home together possibly believing the night will be a one-off engagement for their sexual desires. But when morning arrives along with freshly brewed instant coffee, their morning breath is punctuated by the beginnings of a friendship neither knew was possible.
Andrew Haigh’s ultra low-budget film (it was made for around £120,000) tells the story of two very different gay men who find kinship in one another. Some have described it as a romantic drama. While to give it such generic convention would compliment its courage to present homosexuality devoid of stereotypes and social-problem melodrama, it does in fact do a disservice to what is an unassuming film that favours character dynamics over formulaic plotting.
Russell’s reserved, mild-mannered outlook on life contrasts with Glen’s opinionated, almost confrontational art school histrionics. Russell finds out that he is in fact part of a project Glen in conducting into sexuality and male-male relationships when he begins to interview him the morning after their night together. Russell isn’t bothered since he figures it is probably a one-night stand anyway and begins to open up to Glen’s pointed, and very personal, questions. It begins as a friendship based on Glen’s worldly experience wearing off on Russell’s innocent sexual awakening. As their relationship blossoms over the course of the next day, Glen’s promiscuous lifestyle comes into sharp focus when set against Russell’s tender emotional attachment.
“Most interesting is how Weekend challenges a perception built on heterosexual overload in films dealing with love, sex and companionship.”
Haigh paints this weekend-long courtship with a naturalistic approach underpinned by cinema verite styling and handheld camerawork that draws distinctiveness from the city itself. The smoky, neon-lit clubs and bass beats permeate the senses while the grey English skies reflect the monotone blandness of Russell’s apartment block and room within. The director’s endeavour to create an authentic setting for the story is aided by the two leads who are terrific. Newcomers Cullen and New benefit from their anonymity as actors but they manage to exhibit the skill and nuance of age-old pros. There’s a directionless nature about their relationship with adds to its credibility. Detractors may highlight a sort of aimless approach to the plotting that shies away from narrative thrust, but this focuses our attention on the two characters themselves. It also better allows us to feel like we are part of their journey.
The film’s sedate pacing and aversion to conventional narrative momentum highlights the fact Weekend isn’t a film that simply washes over you. Haigh’s frank discussion of sex and his graphic depiction of it is also telling of the film’s straight forward approach. Yet, most interestingly it is how this all comes together to challenge a perception built on heterosexual overload in films dealing with love, sex and companionship. Haigh’s aloof camera, that peers in on his character’s world from a distance (whether picking up the twosome through a crowd of people on the tram or from around a door in Russell’s apartment, or looking in through the window from an adjacent housing block) suggests an ‘us and them’ detachment. Haigh makes no attempt to draw judgement but crucially throws the question out there. It is apt that when Russell asks Glen how he is going to exhibit hisart project, he says: “The problem is, no one is going to come and see it because it is about gay sex. The gay’s will only come because they want to see a cock, and they’ll be disappointed. And the straight’s won’t come because it has nothing to do with their world.” Haigh’s point, perhaps, is that this has everything to do with our world, whatever your sexual orientation.
Weekend, as the title suggests, is about a moment in time. It is brief but life changing for two twenty-something men from Nottingham. Featuring two strong performances from Tom Cullen and Chris New, along with the confident yet restrained direction of Andrew Haigh, Weekend is a challenging, contemporary look at homosexuality in modern Britain. It is also one of the best British films of 2011.
Review by Dan Stephens
Directed by: Andrew Haigh
Written by: Andrew Haigh
Starring: Tom Cullen, Chris New
Released: 2011 / Genre: Drama / Country: UK / IMDB