Upon first viewing Andrew Haigh’s film Weekend (2011), it seems quite simple and this is definitely part of its charm. The plot takes place, as the title suggests, over the course of a single weekend and follows two men, Glen played by Chris New and Russell played by Tom Cullen, as they engage in a fleeting yet passionate relationship. As with any relationship, Glen and Russel are trying to figure out what their true feelings are and what to do next. Is this weekend only a fling or something more? Are they confusing sex with love? Whereas many films and TV shows choose to depict gay relationships in a stereotypical light (pointedly presenting the “gay lifestyle” whatever that is), this film depicts their relationship naturally and realistically. In other words, it’s about making tea, getting to know one another, and yes, attempting to gauge compatibility: what’s your favorite color, what’s your favorite movie, and the like. Weekend is basically a slice of life film. It provides us with a small window into Glen and Russell’s lives which are, at times, quite mundane. Almost anyone watching the film will easily identify with them.
This being said, one of the primary themes of Weekend is the harsh double standard of homosexual vs heterosexual sex both in society and in film. In modern society, sex is plastered all over the media, be it advertising, television, cinema, etc. As the saying goes, “Sex Sells,” but the unwritten disclaimer should read: “just not gay sex.” This theme manifests itself in the film through Glen’s ongoing art project in which he records his various sexual partners as they recount, in explicit detail, aspects of their sex life. Glen explains that although tolerance for gay couples has perhaps improved, they cannot openly show affection or talk about sex in the same ways heterosexual couples can. Nor, apparently, can you do so in movies. To drive this theme home the film features fairly explicit sex scenes between Glen and Russel. Although they are not doing anything different than other lovers, there will undoubtedly be audience members who find these scenes shocking or uncomfortable. This shows that though many societies around the world are becoming more accepting of the LGBT community, there is still a double standard at play. Also, with the recent positive attention given to Blue is the Warmest Color, I can’t help but wonder if lesbian relationships on film are somehow more acceptable to general audiences than gay relationships.
This film gives important insight into what it’s like to be a gay man in a modern city. This is no Brokeback Mountain, in which the characters are in real physical danger if their relationship becomes known. However, there is that lingering stigma of “differentness” that the movie conveys perfectly. Russel has a group of friends who know he is gay, yet he still feels removed from them at times. Near the beginning of the film some of his friends are planning a bachelor party. They launch into a conversation about hiring a stripper. They ask Russel if that would be ok and of course he smiles and agrees. Shortly thereafter, he leaves his friends, saying that he needs to get some sleep. Instead of doing so, he goes to a gay bar where he ends up seeing Glen for the first time. Another example of this “social isolation” takes place at Russel’s work. He is sitting in the break room and overhears one of his colleagues bragging about having sex with a girl the night before. The two male colleagues are discussing sex in a way that he wouldn’t dream of doing in public due to unspoken but very real social bias.
As Glen and Russel get to know each other better, they begin to learn more about their pasts. We learn that Glen was shunned by his best friend in middle school when he learned that he was gay. After that incident Glen didn’t have any friends at school. Director Andrew Haigh seems to be saying that though LGBT couples are being permitted in society they are not being fully accepted. They are still a minority and as with many minorities they are treated with prejudice.
Weekend succeeds on almost every creative level. Andrew Haigh’s direction and Urszula Pontikos’ cinematography are incredibly subtle. The film is reminiscent of Italian neorealism whose primary purpose is to depict the struggles and successes of everyday life. The locations and sets all feel lived in and are most likely not sets but actual locations. This gives the film a documentary feel which lends itself to its very human themes. Even the script, written by Andrew Haigh, reinforces this sense of realism through its use of casual subject matter delivered naturally. There are few lengthy speeches or weighty discussions in Weekend.
I wouldn’t say that Weekend is a work of social criticism, though it does have themes that critique aspects of modern society. Instead, I would call it social observation. The film is not trying to beat you over head with themes or a political point of view. Rather, it depicts a short passionate love affair between two men. Though the film would fall under the genre of romance, it is starved of the clichés and tropes of romance. Where romances often feel overly sentimental or optimistic, Weekend gives audiences a true, unflinching look at a modern relationship. In my opinion this leads to a much more enjoyable and nuanced viewing experience because Glen and Russel look, sound and behave like real people rather than the cookie-cutter social constructs with agendas that are too often found in more commercial films.