Review: Andrew Haigh’s Weekend Delivers Romance And Deeper Truths

**** (4/5 stars)
(Opens in NYC on Sept 23, L.A. on Sept 30, Chicago Oct 7 and more dates to come)


Let’s face it , gay romantic flicks aren’t generally known for their subtlety.

So writer-director-editor Andrew Haigh’s new romantic drama, Weekend, is an odd bird, indeed. Understated, simple, and unconcerned with its own spectacle, it is less a battle cry and more a gentle nudge. Carried by two impressively naturalistic performances, what might seem to be a slight slice-of-life look at urban gay life manages to deliver an impact far beyond its measured scope and scale.

Weekend tells the story of two days and nights in the life of Russell (Tom Cullen), a shy but handsome British lifeguard living alone in a massive highrise. After a quiet afternoon at home writing, smoking pot and getting ready for a night out, Russell goes to a straight friend’s party before begging off early to hit the gay bars.

A little drunk and stoned, Russell encounters Glen (Chris New), a young artist with a more flamboyant personality and radical worldview, and takes him home. Come sunrise the two are friendly with one another in a playful morning-after way, but their differences are quite evident in the bright light of day. After Glen asks Russell to speak into a recorder about their one-night-stand as a part of an art project and the two exchange numbers, he is on his way. But the two reconnect (several times), and a budding relationship develops over the course of the next 36 hours. They text, chat, flirt, challenge each other’s personal space, drink, have sex, eat, do drugs, argue and embrace without fanfare or inhibition—and the experience of watching it all is curiously both utterly mundane and completely fascinating.

Throughout the film, Haigh, who cut his teeth as an assistant director on Hollywood fare like Black Hawk Down, Mona Lisa Smile and Hannibal Rising, remains tight on his two leads—whether they’re in bed, walking through a carnival or standing on a train platform. Haigh seems fascinated with the idea that gay men’s lives and behaviors are different in private than in public (something that the characters themselves discuss), and many of his choices illustrate this beautifully. Though they are often surrounded by crowds, at times we hear only Russell and Glen—until a carefully-timed whistle or taunt breaks through.

Images via Quinnford and Scout

Weekend can be enjoyed simply as a Before Sunrise-style romance about two people falling in love under deadline, but on a deeper level it captures the unique challenges that gay men face when trying to build meaningful intimate relationships while under the scrutiny of the straight world. When Russell tells Glen that he only starts to feel uncomfortable about being gay when he’s around other people, it may be a symptom of his own hesitancy as an openly gay man but it’s also rooted in an undeniable truth: many straight people simply don’t want to watch gay people expressing affection to one another.

The film is unapologetically, utterly queer and yet to my gay eyes appears extremely accessible: It’s sexually frank without endangering the integrity of the actors or characters, because the sex is so firmly rooted in the characters’ connection to one another. I’m one of those guys who wanted to run screaming screaming from the sex in the first episode of the U.S. Queer as Folk, and I found the sex scenes here—while just as graphic—to be not just appropriate, but also moving and beautiful.

While Haigh’s pacing, editing and direction are strong, he really nailed it in the casting – particularly of Cullen as the kind but distant Russell. The Welsh actor is extremely easy on the eyes (someone give him a recurring role on Torchwood ) and his performance is effortless and unaffected. New’s character is a bit more challenging, in that Glen put himself more “out there”, for better or for worse (particularly in an amusing scene where he deliberately has a gay party in a straight bar in order to piss off the patrons). While I found his character a bit harder to warm up to, he eventually won me over as well.

In the end “Weekend” is nothing special, which makes it something extraordinary. Thanks to its restraint, its generosity of spirit, and its carefully-considered approach to gay romance, the film is a must-see glimpse into how two strangers can challenge one another, provide great kindness, and carry on. I look forward to having it haunt me for some time.