The sexy Weekend begins, as weekends tend to do, on a Friday night. English lifeguard Russell (Tom Cullen) does his duty with some smug married friends, departs early — claiming to be “knackered” — and lands at a gay bar, wherein it becomes clear that his fatigue had to do with hanging out with the straights. He makes the excellent choice to go home with sexy Glen (Chris New), although truthfully, if their bladders hadn’t been in sync, Russell might have spent the weekend watching soccer or some such.
Glen is dynamic and comfortable with his sexuality, brash even, while Russell is reserved and maybe not all the way out of the closet. In the morning Glen, who works in a gallery, pulls out a tape recorder and announces that he wants Russell’s account of their evening for an art project he’s working on. He’s got a neat theory about what can be learned about a person from such a debriefing. This seems like the quickest way to put the kibosh on any potential relationship, but ultimately it doesn’t get in the way — in fact, Weekend turns out to be one of the loveliest romances of the year. Acted with beautiful naturalism, it offers an encapsulation of the joys of attraction and discovery that transcends sexual preference.
The dashing artist might chortle at such optimism: Glen would like some exposure for his artistic endeavors — his collection of enlightening “dirty talk,” as Russell describes it — but he’s very cynical about the prospect of finding an audience. “The problem is that no one is going to come see it because it’s about gay sex,” he tells Russell over a cup of tea later that afternoon. The gays, he says, will see his art project for the titillation (he uses more direct terminology) but not the straights. “Because, well, it’s got nothing to do with their world. They’ll go and see pictures of refugees or murder or rape, but gay sex?” He finishes with an expletive.
I’m not sure that writer-director Andrew Haigh (a film editor who has directed one other feature, Greek Pete, and a handful of shorts) included these lines specifically to shame the straights in the audience, but they should prompt some self-reflection. The Kids Are All Right was a happy exception, but how often do movies about gay couples reach a wide audience? Is there, in fact, that not-for-me shrug among straights that Glen suggests? I think he’s on to something. Last year’s I Love You Phillip Morris — which starred the most mainstream of actors, Jim Carrey — was handled like a hot potato, rescheduled multiple times and barely cracked $2 million at the box office. Not that Weekend, shot with bare-bones intimacy, is particularly like either of those movies. Haigh’s film reminded me at first of Steven Soderbergh’s Sex, Lies, and Videotape. But Glen isn’t ferreting away his findings as James Spader’s character was. Ulterior motives aren’t his thing; he’s all about engagement with others. Weekend is a closer match emotionally to Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise and its sequel, Before Sunset.
I love what Haigh manages to achieve in his Weekend (which shares only a title with Jean-Luc Godard’s 1967 film). The movie is political and challenging, but in an organic way. He frames issues within emotions; when Glen and Russell discuss sexual politics, it feels like an illumination of their lives, rather than a polemic. What Haigh shows of them in bed is uncompromising and stirring — these two are very sexy together — without being particularly risqué. Mostly what Glen and Russell do is fall in love, despite marked differences in the way they approach their lives. After a bit of teasing, the extrovert sees the good in the introvert and vice versa. They both learn to be more open, in Glen’s case to love, Russell to risk.
Like Linklater, Haigh teases with ambiguity at the end. There is a farewell, which starts in long shot — a reminder of the way the mainstream views gay couples from a distance — and then gets a little tighter, paralleling the sense of intimacy Haigh has created between his characters and his audience. What might happen between these men down the road is left up to the imagination. Maybe theirs is just a short story, maybe this is just the opening chapter. Haigh might not even know. But those were 48 splendid hours.