A film which consists in large part of two gay blokes sitting around talking doesn’t immediately smack of something that would set the critical world alight and bag awards at the likes of the British Independent Film Awards, The Evening Standard British Film Awards and the London Critics Circle Film Awards. Weekend did just that though, and it deserved every award and more. Indeed if the world was fair and small independent movies could compete on a level playing field with the big boys, it should have scored a fair few BAFTA noms too.
The film opens on a Friday evening with the quiet, self-effacing Russell (Tom Cullen) heading off to his straight mates’ house before pretending that he’s tired, begging his leave and going to a gay club on the pull. There he meets the louder, brasher Glen (Chris New) and the two end up in bed together. The next morning, Glen gets out his tape recorder as Russell has drunkenly promised to be part of his art project, where he gets people to record their thoughts.
It’s the beginning of a weekend together, where the men discuss what it means to be gay, get drunk, take drugs, have deep conversations, drink tea, have sex, go to the pub and get to know one another. However Glen is heading for a new life in the US at the end of the weekend, setting a deadline on something that starts as a one-night stand but develops into something more. They start to find a connection with each other that almost comes as a surprise to both, but for different reasons.
On the surface Weekend shouldn’t work. There are numerous scenes where two people simply talk about their take on life and how they think the world works. It doesn’t move the story forward (at least in a literal sense), it’s just two men chatting, seemingly aimlessly. Most guides to making films would tell you that’s a quick way to tedium and in in danger of committing the cardinal sin of moviemaking – being boring – but Weekend manages to make it oddly riveting.
The main reason for that is its honesty, which comes through in the performances, the way people talk, the strengths and fallibilities of the characters and the world it’s set in – this is the real, average London that hardly ever gets shown on screen. Weekend manages to make the ordinary enthralling by truly putting a mirror up to reality and making you care about its characters not by building the stakes unnaturally high, but by making them seem like real people you can see yourself reflected in – and that’s true whether you’re gay or straight.
The long scenes of Glen and Russell chatting are truly wonderful. In film conversation nearly always has to have a clear point, with the sort of chat the guys engage in here seen as unnatural. But as Weekend shows, this is how many people talk given half the chance. People do have ideas about the world that they want to talk about, but it’s rare to find a film that shows that and gives the idea a chance to breathe. Glen feels gay men hide their gayness in order not to offend straight people, Russell thinks people are just being themselves and maybe don’t want to be loudly gay all the time. As in real life, that’s something to talk about, and actor Tom Cullen and Chris New find a way to do it that feels absolutely authentic.
Even within these scenes it’s fascinating to see quite how acutely observed the movie is, such as perfectly understanding the way people to talk to people they don’t know well, the uncertainty of new flirtations, the difference between conversations between two people alone and in a pub, and how the addition of drugs affects the way people converse.
I can think of few other films that have so strongly captured the first moments of a relationship in all its awkwardness, intimacy, excitement, frustration and uncertainty. It’s also one of the few to truly tackle the oddly modern phenomenon of two people who have sex shortly after meeting and then have to do things backwards by pretty much introducing themselves the next day. It becomes a dance between Russell and Glen, where they’ve had sex but then have to test the waters with each other to find out what level of intimacy seems okay and figure out what, if anything, happens next.
It’s also great that while the film’s main characters are incredibly human and easy for anyone to empathise with, it never loses sight of the fact they are gay men and the issues they’re dealing with are always seen through that prism. In many ‘gay movies’ the characters either seem so gay they become fake caricatures or attempt to be so universal they don’t actually feel like gay people at all, but Weekend manages to get to the truth of modern gay life, with its balance between life lived as a normal person whose part of a bigger society and issues and a worldview that only really apply to gay people.
The result of all this is a truly wonderful movie about two people you very quickly come to care about. Russell is probably easier to like, even if he is a bit drippy. Glen meanwhile is more confrontational, brasher and more annoying, but he’s also got real verve and thought, and you can see why the two are attracted to one another.
It’s also great that a film that defies the usual expectations of a love story never lets go of that and sticks to its principles with a conclusion that’s neither too soppy nor too overwrought. As with everything else, it has an honesty to it. It pull off what few films would dare to try, showing that small moments in peoples’ lives and a tiny step forward for a character can have great power for a viewer if we care about what’s happening.
It’s rare that a movie will stick with you long after you’ve watched it because of its truth and honesty, but Weekend manages just that.
Despite its very low-budget, the film looks good on Blu-ray, with a nice, sharp transfer that takes you deep into modern London life. It may not be the sort of hyper-kinetic action film you’d normally think would benefit from HD, but the added picture quality does help with a film that wants to take you intimately into the lives of it two leads.
Overall Verdict: A truly wonderful Brit flick which observes the truth of modern gay life astonishingly acutely, with a knack for getting at the truth of life-as lived that is almost uncanny.
Special Features: Interview with director Andrew Haigh and actors Chris New and Tom Cullen, Director & Producer Interview, Behind the scenes footage, Quinnford + Scout Picture Gallery with commentary, Weekend UK Premiere at the London Film Festival, Trailer
Reviewer: Tim Isaac