Weekend has passages that are packed with dialogue, and if there’s anything I’m a sucker for, it’s a well-worded scene. But there are many instances in which writer/director Andrew Haigh seems to be harkening back to the silent era, when, as Norma Desmond once observed, we needed only faces instead of words; he examines his characters in tightly-framed close-ups, and he lingers on these shots without always keeping track of how often someone is speaking. We’re often left to ponder exactly what the subjects are thinking. It’s the truest kind of character study – we not only have what they say, but also how they look as they’re saying it. In one interesting shot, a conversation on a city bus is observed through an open space between two passengers standing close to the camera. As the sitting characters speak, their faces are at times obscured by nondescript blurs of clothing.
What we have here is a fascinating and deeply realistic paradox. Haigh’s characters blend into the background so easily, and yet they’re deeply entrenched in story about individuality – or, more accurately, the search for individuality in a world overwhelmingly defined by social roles, expectations, taboos, and the uncertainties of life. It is above all a story about love, which is not to suggest that it’s a romanticized Hollywood fantasy. I admit to giving many such films a passing grade, mostly because I recognize them as harmless, entertaining distractions. A little light-heartedness never hurt anyone. But there should always be a place for movies like Weekend, which explores sex and relationships with refreshing openness, sensitivity, and understanding of human nature.
We have two young British men, Russell (Tom Cullen) and Glen (Chris New). They meet one night at a bar. Russell takes Glen to his place, they have sex, and they spend the night together. That was the easy part. The hard part begins the next morning, when they have their first real conversation. Glen, an art student who will soon be going to college in Oregon, casually retrieves a tape recorder and asks Russell a series of personal questions, many relating to sex. Although humorously frank, Glen is not being facetious; it’s all part of a project he’s working on, one that he hopes to showcase at a local museum. The importance of this scene may not be immediately obvious, but it’s definitely there. Essentially, it’s all about character. By showing this conversation, Haigh takes us on the first steps towards getting to know Russell and Glen on a deeper level.
Russell, a lifeguard at a local swimming pool, is not closeted. However, he certainly doesn’t make it a point to advertize his sexuality. His best friend, who’s straight, knows he’s gay in the same general, impersonal way most people know that a tree has green leaves. There are no discussions about Russell’s relationships, no detailed accounts of his nights going to bars. While not directly stated, there’s the sense that he has definite ideas about how people should behave in public. It’s a matter of perception; he sees the world in a certain way, and he thinks he knows how others see it as well. Russell does not want to make waves. He’s a conformist, and while it’s debatable how happy he is being that way, there’s no question that it’s a routine he has grown comfortable with.
Although Glen is far more open about being gay, in many ways, he’s just as guarded about himself as Russell is. His cynical, borderline militant observations about homosexuality slowly but surely reveal themselves as coping mechanisms for feelings of hurt and betrayal. A person does not lightly make the decision to leave for another country; the more we get to know Glen, the more we realize he’s not running towards a future, but away from his past. Glen and Russell’s limited time together (forty-eight hours, as the title makes perfectly clear) allow for deeper, more open conversations between the two. Some are friendly. Others are antagonistic. All of them show a deft appreciation for personal connections – or rather, how difficult it can be to make them.
To call this a “gay movie” would be an ignorant simplification. There are homosexual aspects to the plot, but when it comes to character and theme, Weekend has universal appeal. Trust, fear, frustration, social stigma, self-discovery, friendship, love, the pursuit of happiness – absolutely none of these are exclusive to the issue of sexual orientation. Most people, I believe, will be able to see echoes of themselves in both Russell and Glen. You can hear it in the way they talk, but mostly you can see it in their expressions, which are studied carefully, if not lovingly. By focusing so intently on the actors’ faces, the humanity of their characters easily comes across. They’re not romantic archetypes, but actual people doing their best to navigate through the complexities of life.
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