A Nottingham-set gay love story, Andrew Haigh’s Weekend is love in the real lane – tender, confusing and painful. It’s funny, but it ain’t no hom-com.
Straight Story by Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers.
The title may recall Godard’s 1970 car-crash spectacular, but it’s another JLG film that Weekend reminds me of. And while it’s not exactly a gay A Bout De Souffle, there’s still something in Andrew Haigh’s internal, intimate scenes that recall the ponderous non-sequiturs between Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg. Their lives could hardly be more different from the Sixties’ hippest onscreen couple, Michel the French gangster and Patricia the cropped American student; two gay guys in Nottingham spending the weekend together after getting lucky one night. Weekend is hardly a girl and a gun movie either, no matter how wonderful it might be to hear a bar or two of Martial Solal’s piano theme as Glen walks away from Russell’s tower block in his impressive selection of primary coloured hoodies. But as they idle timelessly on the bed in their underwear or talk about the contemporary gay experience, there’s almost something nostalgic about this very beautiful piece of zeitgeist filmmaking.
Russell, who grew up in care, now works as a lifeguard. He’s godfather to his best friend’s daughter and decorates his flat with charity shop trawls, preferring the well-handled patina of history to the sheen of the new. Glen on the other hand is a wannabe artist, interviewing his one-night-stands for an art project on the commercial and cultural taboos of gay sex, and has designs on Portland, Oregon where he’s to attend art school. He doesn’t do boyfriends either. Russell’s out, but on a strictly need-to-know basis, anxious not to cause any ripples or poke his head above the smooth, straight surface while Glen is out and proud as a peacock, mouthing off at homophobic bullies from Russel’s window. And politicised too, anxiously deconstructing the straight framework all around. Not just in Nottingham.
Centred round the conversations between Glen and Russell, Weekend is a clever, compelling film, charming us just as its heroes slowly enchant each other. It has a fantastic script, with very real and often hilarious everyday behaviour neatly observed by Haigh and acutely embodied by Tom Cullen and Chris New. Such as the freedom of a new lover’s caress which dissolves into the simple awkwardness of two men in a hallway. Haigh effortlessly captures the mysteries of same-sex relationships, the conflicting patterns of male and gay behaviour and the 21st century strait-jacket of don’t-push-it tolerance; the lads’ recourse to the unlikely romance of the dodgems a sublimated, masculinised desire for public affection rather than the hands-off candle-lit dinner in a fancy restaurant. Kissing in public is just as complicated; Russell’s too uncomfortable to kiss Glen in a straight bar, and yet happy to crown their platform-side Notting Hill moment with a kiss. Perhaps cajoled by the romance of the moment, borrowed from many a straight story.
As a thought-provoking and often beautiful portrait of contemporary gay experience, Weekend provides an honest exploration of same-sex relationships behind closed doors – the discomfort (or shame) of talking about gay sex, the plurality of the coming-out rite of passage, and draws an interesting equation between parental pride and gay self-confidence. It may at times be overly verbose or proselytising, Glen often feels like the director’s mouthpiece, but like its blabbermouth lead, Weekend has a lot to say. And with its long philosophical conversations and ultimate feeling of loss, it manages to run against the grain of the traditional straight narrative. Like its refusal to adopt a Brief Encounter high drama in Nottingham’s train station, instead drowning out their declarations of love with departing locomotives and tannoy announcements. There are no happy endings here. Just an unintended question – whether it’s more or less subversive to the heterosexual hegemony to have another doomed gay relationship.
But there’s more to their 48-hour affair than sex, lies and dictaphone tape. There’s a feeling that both men have, in some way, learned something. Russell finally unclams to best friend Jamie, and Glen heals enough to start to believe in relationships again. The final twilit scene of Russell, now alone, listening to the conversation they taped on the first morning-after is gently haunting; Is Glen’s present a declaration of love, a baton of artistic endeavour for Russell to continue, or a reminder of the distance they’ve come from the men they were on Saturday morning? And with Russell gazing out from his tower block over the loveless horizon, there’s a genuinely moving sense of loss to the final reel. It doesn’t quite reach the Sophoclean inevitability of a gay tragedy, with Glen fleeing to the States to reinvent himself and escape the conforming cement of friends. But there is a tragedy here, an utter impossibility of love between the relationship-hunter and the sex-seeker, between Glen’s desire to move on and Russell’s comfort blanket of friends.
With enough socio-political conversations to make Weekend a hit in France, there’s certainly a lot to talk about in Andrew Haigh’s film. And while its occasionally overlong sequences of Tom Cullen bathing could be a homage to Christophe Honoré’s Man At Bath, I can’t begrudge Weekend a tiny bit of gratuitous nudity – it certainly needs a lift. Set almost entirely indoors, and in a tower block at that, Weekend is more discouraging than even its glum story suggests; with its love that dares not step outside, its damsel in distress unrescued, its two lonely satellites still orbiting. It’s beautiful, haunting and slightly terrifying, and just like real love, leaves you breathless.
Weekend is released on 4th November 2011 in the UK