Gay cinema has always suffered from being a niche market, having to satisfy the needs of a specific target audience often at the expense of the average audience member. Every few years, a film comes along that crosses those boundaries, but very rarely does one do so with the resonance and beauty of ‘Weekend’, the second feature from independent British director Andrew Haigh. In fact, this might be the film gay cinema has been waiting for in this new century.
One Friday night, shy and unassuming Russell (Tom Cullen) meets cocky and confident Glen (Chris New) at a club, and takes him home with him. Over the course of the weekend, their relationship starts to develop, forcing them to navigate the inevitable and difficult complications that come with letting another person into your heart.
It’s a basic premise, and that is one of the strengths of ‘Weekend’. There are no complicated subplots of intolerant friends and family, no dramatic moments of ‘coming out’. By boiling it down to a strict time period, explored thoroughly within the 94-minute runtime, we are offered a rare and candid look into the mechanics of Russell and Glen’s emerging relationship. As both writer and director, Haigh handles the film with tremendous delicacy, and the script, rather than being corny, romantic and tragic, is subtle and cracking with wit. At no point is the film self-consciously gay or camp, instead opting for the kind of British grit and realism you would associate with the likes of Mike Leigh. Long shots focused on characters existing in a suburban landscape give the film an almost timeless sense of immediacy and relevance. Moments of intimacy are also not exploited, but go for painful and breathtaking honesty.
All this would be nothing, however, without the arresting central performances from the two leads, both newcomers. The characters are beautifully developed already in the screenplay, but these actors inhabit and expand on them with complete conviction. Chris New is a firecracker as Glen, an exploding ball of energy and playful spite. Glen is a man adrift, unsure of his place in this world, and New has a wonderful sense of aloofness about him, making him that perfect balance of charming and mysterious. Tom Cullen as Russell is the real find of the film, though. As the antithesis to Glen’s energy, Russell is a beautifully quiet, feeling soul. The film is told from his perspective, and his unassuming nature make him the perfect sympathetic protagonist. While Glen is an openly sexual being, it takes the course of the weekend for Russell to allow himself to let go and embrace his emotions, rather than trying to make them comply to how he thinks he should act. Both characters, while handsome young men, are painfully ordinary at the same time, giving the film another terrific layer of realism. Their chemistry is electric, and the screen sparkles whenever they are together.
At its heart, ‘Weekend’ is a magical film about real people, regardless of their sexual preference. If it has any political or social agenda, it is simply to say that love is a universal emotion, capable of being felt by anyone. That in itself is a powerful cinematic statement to make, and will inevitably make a far greater and more significant impact. There is a rare balance to this film, and a maturity you don’t see very often in its handling of intimacy and adult relationships, with moments of tremendous humour tempered by gut-wrenching heartache. This is not a romantic fantasy, but realism at its best, and destined to become a classic. Definitely an early contender for one of the best films of the year.