What to say about Weekend? If Brokeback weren’t my de facto favorite film—for all the reasons I have shared here in previous posts—this one would swoop in and take the crown.
Far less well-known, this British indie flick directed by Andrew Haigh (before he got involved with HBO’s Looking) is a quiet, stirring, simmering pot of big beautiful emotions. It is also a two-hander; that is, the two main characters dominate the screen for almost the entire film, often for long stretches of very queer, very meaningful conversation.
Prior to Weekend, the queer cinema I had ingested was relatively chaste, hemmed in by Hollywood standards of production and the Motion Picture Association of America’s (MPAA) rating system which, no surprise, favors heterosexuality. Haigh’s low budget film did not have those concerns on its mind and, when I caught it freshman year at NYU, I was mesmerized, turned on, emotionally drained, and, quite simply, happy. Weekend represented for me an idealized form of queer cinema: erotic, intelligent, political, and deeply humanized.
The narrative is incredibly simple: Russell (Tom Cullen who, last I saw him, was wooing Lady Mary on Downton Abbey, on the right in the above image) is a semi-closeted maybe-30-year-old whose friends, all straight, are understanding but hardly know him. He goes to a gay bar one night and eyes Glen (Chris New, left); the next morning we realize they went home together. So begins a weekend of conversation, sex, and self-realization. There’s a major twist as well, which I won’t spoil here. Suffice it to say that their time together has certain time-based constraints placed on it.
The acting is superb. Both men, in their first major roles, are incredibly natural, never hitting a false note despite Glen’s highly political philosophizing and Russell’s insecurity. They are archetypical in certain ways, but both characters transcend stereotype to reach a far more human place of mutual understanding. This happens through the long-winded, often exhausting conversation between them about topics ranging from same-sex marriage to monogamy to their coming out experiences and, finally, a bout of tense, drug and alcohol spurred verbal sparring. The stakes rise higher and higher for both characters as their weekend together draws to a close.
The actors are also unafraid of intimacy. Their first connection is a sexual one, and this plays out in interesting ways throughout the film. We do not see the pair’s initial one night stand, but instead anticipate some sort of sexual apotheosis; the consummation of their anger and confused emotions into a tender (and very sexy) love scene is satisfying both narratively and erotically. Russell especially gains a great deal from their coupling, as evidenced by the scene I’ve chosen this week.
Far more than other scenes I’ve selected, this one serves as an emotional climax. I would recommend seeing the film before watching it (or reading on), though the first couple of minutes are relatively spoiler-free.
In the scene, Russell and Glen wake up together after their night of passionate, meaningful sex. Russell, whose discomfort with his sexuality has been laid bare, proceeds to tell Glen that he never got a chance to come out to his parents (he was orphaned). Glen tells Russell that he should come out to him as if he were his father.
With lesser actors, and lesser chemistry, it could not be pulled off. Instead, what could have been sappy beyond belief is sad and joyous and frightening for Russell, and we are right there with him. The stark simplicity of the film’s narrative and formal elements marry in an affecting, incredibly honest moment of relief. It’s no surprise that I cried my eyes out while watching.
Take a look below and please, please watch this beautiful film. It’s a crowning achievement in the queer cinema canon.