Friday, September 30, 2011
Set in Nottingham-- this would be an altogether different story had it been set in a major city, one where gay and straight interactions are more commonplace-- we meet Russell (Tom Cullen), a quiet, semi-closeted lifeguard. After leaving a party full of straight-only friends, on a whim he goes to a gay bar, where he meets Glen (Chris New.) There's no meet-cute scenario here; in fact the two first meet at the toilets. Cut to: the next morning and Glen is in Russell's bed. The awkward, hungover next morning feels so lived in, that it first it feels almost unbearably terse, what with casual pleasantries and timid, post-coitus questions. This abruptly changes when Glen, far more out and more brash than Russell, screams out this bedroom window at neighboring gay bashers, and continues to challenge Russell when we brings out his tape recorder. An emerging artist, Glen asks Russell to speak into it and honestly tell, point by point, what lead them from a the bar the night before to his bed. Nervous and probably a little intimated, Russell candidly speaks of first attraction to sexual play by play. The two exchange polite technological information, with little expectation, even moreso as Glen has revealed, "he doesn't do boyfriends," which is given more challenging meaning as the film goes on.
Yet something is evident in both men, that something, whatever it is, or may well be is piqued in both and they meet up later that day. As the plot envelops, we learn that Glen is leaving soon stateside to go to art-school, and this first weekend will as be their last, but that's hardly the point. It's in the textures of how they spend it together, and the confines spent is Russell's small apartment where they have sex, do drugs, and talk a lot. And while it's constructed that Russell is the quieter, "straighter" guy in pursuit of, but also scared of lasting love, and Glen is the louder, more aggressive guy running away from it, there's never a sense of agenda or one-note thinking in either. To Haigh's immense credit, he has crafted two superbly rounded and carefully shaded characters that feel achingly truthful, and Cullen and New both prove fascinating young discoveries, deftly distilling the politics of sex and love and being gay in the modern era. And that may be the film's ultimate meaning, that of in a world that is more accepting of homosexuality, does that instill some sense of conforming. While many of the mostly drug-fueled discussions teeter around the political, Haigh and his actors always bring it back and thoughtfully boil it down the philosophy of why these two men have these mindsets.
It's in the final act of Weekend where quietly earned emotion takes over. What's remarkable is how intimate it is, but still feels real-- there isn't an artificial or heightened moment in the entire. In an age, where romantic movies feel less and less nuanced, it's quietly affecting and almost revelatory to experience a film free of gimmicky slights of hand or tacky commercialism; there's a funny bit when Glen caustically says, "is this our Notting Hill moment?" And while the slow-building melding of thoughts and ideas may read as hard, or a slow sit at first, grows memorably as a realistic showcase of how chance affairs sometimes may have more power than ever imagined. Haigh shoots the entire film almost as a documentary, with long unbroken scenes, little music, lots of ambient noise and slow, but graceful pacing. Weekend is evocative, soft and hard at the same time (which almost feels complimentary to the characters themselves.) It might just be my favorite film so far this year.
There is a little quiet transgressive quality to Weekend that almost makes it feel like a throwback, not only in it's story nod to Brief Encounter, but to the Queer New Wave of the early-1990s when filmmakers like van Sant and Haynes were making artful declarations of the gay experience. Whatever has changed (and surely lots has) since then, there's still a sense of a movement not quite sure of its overall identity, perhaps because it's led by those who have most likely at some point or another put on an entirely new identity. And while Weekend, certainly is modern and correct in current queer thinking, there's a small dash of fresh spunk that seems all but forgotten in queer storytelling today, and while it's quiet and deeply nuanced, it might just feature the best (non) love story, hetero or homo, in quite some time. A