Weekend has been getting a massive amount of media love, especially in the US. If we ignore the hype this is still the best low budget, 2010s kitchen sink drama, which just happens to have two gay central characters, to have come out for a while.
The film follows Russell (Tom Cullen) a softly-spoken, likeable young chap over the course of a weekend. After a slightly boring house party at his (straight) best mate’s house, Russell heads off to a gay club to get properly pissed and pick some one up. The guy he ends up with is Glen (Chris New), an artist who records interviews with everyone he sleeps with, including Russell. The two hang out together for most of the rest of weekend, peaking with a long Saturday night of coke-fuelled conversation and a bit of sex.
Early on Glen explains that he is leaving on the Sunday to go and live in the US. This imminent departure creates a question hangs over the film and their relationship. The two men form a bond that could lead to something more than just a two night stand, but will it last and does it matter? The tension set up by the probability of imminent separation holds the film together satisfyingly.
Although still in his thirties, director Andrew Haigh is no stranger to film. He has made four shorts and one feature length movie (Greek Pete, about the year in the life of a London rentboy) and also worked for eight years as a film editor in London on films including Black Hawk Down, Gladiator and Mona Lisa Smile. The time he has spent building a story behind the camera and honing it in the editing suite are both evident in Weekend.
Haigh has said that Karel Reisz’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning is a key influence. Starring Albert Finney, the film was of the earliest British kitchen-sink dramas of the 60s. According to Haigh, “its exploration of the ‘outsider’ battling the mainstream is a theme essential to both the queer experience and to the kind of stories I want to tell.” Both films are also set in Nottingham, cleave to a social realist attitude and feature working class protagonists working out who they are.
It’s undeniable that both characters in this romance are gay and they spend much of their time discussing gay concerns, but the film is more than simply a ‘gay film’. Haigh stays true to the kitchen-sink ethos of creating real characters. Both Russell and Glen are very much people that you could imagine meeting down the pub or at a party.
So, they get together and start to fall in love and argue and shag and we start, not just to like Glen and Russell, but like them together. Glen is angry and articulate, Russell is sweet-natured, but infuriatingly timid. They could both learn from each other, and possibly they do.
In America Weekend is being hailed as a cinematic saviour. After its screening at the Tribeca Film Festival in June, the New York Times film critic A.O. Scott said the film was ‘perfectly realised‘. That was after the positive response at South by Southwest in March. All this was just a foretaste of the love fest to come. By September, Mary Pols in Time magazine wrote the film was “one of the loveliest romances of the year” and then in October Bret Easton Ellis tweeted that Weekend was not only “a pretty remarkable movie anyway you look at it”, but “might be the greatest film about gay men ever made”.
In an essay in the New York Times Dennis Slim pointed out all the various pitfalls faced by so many gay films, or at least by films with gay story lines and characters. Not only are characters notoriously one dimensional, but their stories are often tragic. Not so with Weekend. Glenn and Russell are possibly more believable than Arthur Seaton, Finney’s character in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. And while the film has a melancholy edge, it doesn’t veer into tragedy.
Part of the film’s attraction has to be Tom Cullen’s self-effacing character. Yes, he should stand up for himself and his sexuality, but he’s a delightful romantic who is hard to resist. The film compellingly plays out realities faced by gay men and gay artists, but the bitter-sweetness of a short relationship will resonate with young straight people too. Don’t believe the hype, but do go and see Weekend.