**** (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