There’s unfortunately still a paucity of interesting work that explores aspects of just being gay, rather than centring on coming out, gay-bashing or repressed love, which makes Andrew Haigh’s 2011 film Weekend all the more refreshing for its frank normality. Russell and Glen meet on a Friday night and what starts off seeming like a regular one-night-stand turns into something altogether more significant, as that special spark ignites between them and they spend a potentially life-changing weekend together, despite or perhaps because of the knowledge of they only have this weekend to share.
The film received immense hype from critics and several friends alike on its limited release last year and since I didn’t get to see it, I naturally found myself a little wary (after all, how can something be declared good if I haven’t given it my seal of approval!) and this wasn’t helped by the pedestrian pace of the opening third of the film and its rather soap-like tone, it wasn’t grabbing me at all. But slowly, it develops and matures into a really rather affecting story as the two lovers confront their preconceptions about each other, about themselves and about what they are looking for from life and love.
It’s moving because it is an insightful look into contemporary relationships of any colour, shape or sexuality and the fact that opportunities as potentially golden as these are few and far between for any of us. But it is genuinely affecting because it is specific as well as universal, it unashamedly delves into the realities of modern gay life, re the contrasting ways in which one can assert sexuality in daily life – that feeling of having to decide whether it is a safe enough environment to hold a lover’s hand or give him a kiss is all too painfully real – and the incestuous minefield that can emerge in narrow groupings, where someone always knows someone (although I wasn’t quite convinced as to how these two hadn’t met before, surely Nottingham can’t have that many gay bars…).
Chris New as the forthright Glen and Tom Cullen’s more reserved Russell equally grow into their roles, both becoming utterly convincing as their interactions – which often are just having sex and taking drugs – become increasingly charged and enthralling as they each bring out different qualities in each other, each challenging what they hold as true and leaving us really quite in love with them by the end. Their debate on gay marriage was scintillating and so much of their chat felt truly authentic, full of the complexity of living in a world which kind of tolerates us and what effect that ambiguity has on the person.
So from slow beginnings, something beautiful emerges. It’s not quite the Before Sunrise – surely the best example of this genre – I had been led to believe, but still something to treasure.