Even within sincere and skilled gay cinema, homosexuality is often explored as a social aberrant. “Coming out” stories may be legion, but it is far more difficult to find a quality gay love story that works as love story first and gay story second. Obviously, the fear is that something disingenuous happens in dropping sexuality to a supporting role, as though this relegation is automatically some kind of demotion. But so long as it isn’t a function of denial, this inversed order of importance can be a thing of beauty, a refreshingly genuine examination of life as it actually happens.
British writer/director Andrew Haigh’s Weekend is about as honest as it comes, featuring the kind of sloppy, accidental romance that’s often cleaned up and sanitized on screen. Russell (Tom Cullen) is a soft-spoken lifeguard who hooks up with Glen (Chris New) just before closing time in a move that neither believed would unite them beyond noon the next day. They’re workable opposites: Russell is quasi-uncloseted, understated and somewhat sexually reserved; by contrast, Glen is an artist whose work is defined by raw carnal conversations and has no reservations about where parts of anatomy can be placed.
As attraction breeds with quality conversation to tack days onto what was a “one-night stand,” their reluctant couplehood becomes that rarest kind of cinematic romance: believable. The easiest point of comparison may be Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise, only without all of the scruffy European pretense. This isn’t to say Weekend is soft and pretty. On the contrary, as Glen and Russell snort coke and stumble through tense discussions about sexual shame, their courtship is messy and indefinable. It’s also one of the year’s best cinematic unions.
With cinematography that’s as casual as its content, Haigh’s film never flinches, even after it has earned that right by the film’s conclusion. The final moments are mumbled, frustrated confessions of the sort that only the best movies get right. We may not know what comes next, but most all of us know how it feels…gay or straight.
If Weekend has a limitation, it may be its slightly-too-dour tone. There is almost too much regret, too much second-guessing by each of the characters, to the point where the joy and frenzy of passion feel somewhat muted beneath sober contemplation. Love may be serious business, but it’s also liberating. Haigh may touch on that too infrequently, relying on his leads to convey everything with touch and tone. Thankfully, Cullen and New are exceptionally skilled and bring it as close to home as the film is willing to visit.
Glen and Russell manage to discuss socially relevant elements of homosexuality without making that theme the most definable characteristic. In doing so, Haigh has constructed a raw romance that may say more about the gay community than films that propose to do exactly that. Packed with sincerity and crushing reality, Weekend is a great film first and a great gay film second.
Grade = A-