In honor of Pride Month, we’re taking a look at one of the best LGBT movies of the decade, Andrew Haigh’s Weekend.
It’s hard to think of queer cinema of this decade without mentioning the film Weekend. Until Moonlight captured the collective consciousness of cinephiles and mainstream audiences alike, the defining film in the LGBT film canon could be traced back to Andrew Haigh’s masterpiece. But why did this small and intimate film with really only two characters take such a high position in the history of queer cinema? Well, in addition to the lack of high-profile gay movies, Haigh shows us a gay relationship from with an understanding of the dynamics of a gay relationship.
Unlike the doomed love stories of the past like Brokeback Mountain or, more recently, Carol, Weekend features a story with no risk other than the one of a missed connection. Russell (Tom Cullen) is the character we view the story from. And his background is one that only LGBT people can really understand. There is an odd limbo between being out and fully accepting your identity. Some people fully accept their identity before coming out to those closest to them. Russell can’t fully accept himself, even when he’s around his closest friends who embrace him — Jonathan Race’s Jamie is a general stand-in for this group. For Russell, much like many other gay men, finds safety and comfort in gay clubs, where he goes after spending time with his “straight friends.”
One night, he runs into Glen (Chris New), an art student. The two men go home together and the next morning after having sex, Glen asks Russell if he can record him talking about their night together for an art project. After, the two trade numbers and go their separate ways. The next day, Russell invites Glen to meet up again. From there, the two strike up a weekend-long conversation that eventually leads to a coming-of-age that both characters sorely needed.
Weekend is a meditation on moments. There are no grand romantic gestures or ridiculous ultimatums. Though, the central conflict of the movie is an impending departure. Its greatest virtue is its realism. So rarely in relationships nowadays we say what we feel. So two men with a mutual attraction that want it to become more won’t explicitly address that feeling. Instead, Haigh hides that development in the small moments — a touch, a look of familiarity or understanding. As the two men see each other more, each sexual encounter become more explicit — their first hookup isn’t shown on screen. It’s Haigh’s way of showing their growing intimacy and perhaps love.
Weekend has often been hailed as a gay romance that isn’t necessarily about being gay. And yes, if you strip away those elements the movie would still be able to get by. However, the sexuality of the characters is ingrained in the story as much as it is ingrained in their identity. As I said before, the character of Russell is struggling with his identity. It’s not until he meets Glen that he is forced to confront his identity. Glen, on the other hand, is frustrated at the heteronormativity in our society and vocalizes that dissatisfaction often and loudly. While Russell fades into the background whenever the topic comes up — even when it’s being spoken about around him he shrinks back into himself — Glen takes it on. It’s what helps both characters grow. Russell faces his identity while Glen realizes that he isn’t beholden to the stereotypes.
In a touching scene later in the film, Glen allows Russell to come out to him — a chance he wasn’t afforded with his parents. It’s a quiet, unassuming scene that is shot without theatrics. However, the emotional impact is palpable. It’s a moment of understanding and unspoken growth. That’s what makes Weekend so effective. Haigh doesn’t need to throw plot or themes in your face. The realistic, conversational dialogue does all the heavy lifting for the movie. Nothing really happens. But, at the same time, everything does.
There have been grander stories and more flashy movies, but I always find myself going back to Weekend. It’s escapist in its own unique way. You can’t help but immerse yourself in Glen and Russell’s conversation the same way that you did with Jesse and Celine in the Before Trilogy. That’s because, in some way, you can see yourself in them. Whether it’s a moment or a feeling. Or maybe a place or a line. Anyone that has fallen in love can see when other people are falling. Weekend lets you witness two people opening up to each other and discovering each other on a level that can only be described as falling. And I swear, you won’t be able to stop smiling about it.