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Weekend - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
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cinema_holic
Weekend
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Directing: A-
Acting: B+
Writing: A
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B+



Weekend tells a pretty simple, straightforward story: a couple of British gay men meet at a gay bar, go home and have sex, and then spend the next two days navigating an unexpectedly swift intimacy. One is shy and the other is more outgoing; the latter is scheduled to leave for a two-year stay in the States in two days.

Given that there's not a whole lot more to the story than that, writer-director Andrew Haigh gives us time to soak in the details, creating a totally absorbing atmosphere of sexual tension and tentative emotion. It is surprising indeed to discover how gifted Haigh evidently is, given his totally worthless debut feature, 2009's Greek Pete. As Sophomore efforts go, you can't get much more vastly improved than this.

Indeed I am hard pressed to find any major flaw in Weekend, which is refreshing in its frankness about homosexuality -- both in terms of natural realism in the relationship and in terms of sex. You won't find any gay sex scenes any more frank than this, at least not outside of porn. Haigh leaves little to the imagination -- at one point even showing semen on a character's belly (I wondered what substance they used for that shot) -- and yet every sex scene, and there are many, is treated with a delicate tenderness that suggests not mere carnal desire but rich emotional texture.

The two men in question, Russell and Glen, are played by newcomers Tom Cullen and Chris New, respectively, and they serve the material well. It makes sense to cast unknowns in these parts, because it keeps the focus on the content, which is exceptional, rather than anything even remotely resembling star power.

If I had any complaint, it would be how long it takes to get a sense of who these people are and what direction the film is headed. Weekend opens with Russell attending a party of straight people at his straight best friend's place, and we spend a fair amount of time watching Russell just go through the motions of making an appearance at an event that appears to be a social obligation. He's not very engaged, and although he leaves sooner than his friend would like, it's plenty soon enough for us.

But then he has a change of heart while on the train, and gets off to go dancing. This is where things also seem slightly backward, in that Russell is clearly supposed to be a bit socially awkward. Although the scene of him trying to pick up people in the club -- or rather, hoping to get picked up -- is played out with unusual realism (nothing about the gay experience is particularly romanticized here), it's still kind of hard to believe it would take so long for anyone to approach someone as good looking as Russell. Russell, evidently harboring a touch of self-hatred, even later says he thought Glen was out of his league, which just made me wonder what planet he was living on.

That said, once they meet, in a way so many gay men do -- in a club, some level of drunk, diving right into the heavy petting -- the development of their relationship from then on is utterly believable. Virtually the entire movie is just them sitting together or walking around talking, like a gay Before Sunrise but with a lot more sex and drugs. (In fact, I found the drug use more distracting than the sex; they eventually move on from weed to cocaine, which is treated with the same amount of casualness. I am not aware of any tendency to be so blasé about that in the States; maybe things are different in Britain.)

In any event, once these conversations get going -- starting with Glen tape recording Russell talking about their first encounter while still in bed the morning after -- the movie sucks you in, systematically revealing the details of these two men's personal lives and how those details dance around each other. There is nothing particularly intense about it; no melodrama -- just a sweet, but solid, love story, about two guys who fall for each other in different ways that in the end can't be sustained. There is a sad goodbye, but even that is treated with subtle delicacy, never once being manipulative with our emotions. It's a bittersweet end for them that for us as an audience is a satisfying conclusion.

Tom Cullen and Chris New form an unexpectedly intimate bond in WEEKEND.


Overall: A-
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