REVIEW: Weekend [2011]

Score: 9/10 | ★ ★ ★ ½

Rating: NR | Runtime: 97 minutes | Release Date: November 4th, 2011 (UK)
Studio: Peccadillo Pictures / IFC Films / Sundance Selects
Director(s): Andrew Haigh
Writer(s): Andrew Haigh

“I had to save you from the Hobbit”

In a year with plenty of romantic dramas depicting the chance meeting of strangers and their quest to be together—Like Crazy and One Day amongst others—it’s sad to realize the one that hits hardest probably won’t be seen. The fact Netflix lists it as Gay & Lesbian rather than Romance proves Weekend‘s Glen’s (Chris New) sentiments about our culture’s continual lack of acceptance. He knows that even if a gallery shows his amateur art project of recorded thoughts about his nightly partners’ lifestyles and their brief unions together no one would go. Homosexuals would only be disappointed it didn’t go farther than tape recordings and heterosexuals wouldn’t give it a second glance. He idyllically and futilely imagines a world where everyone is open about who he or she is and what he or she does. In such a world everything would be deemed normal.

This stigma prevails even in heartfelt love—and possibly especially heartfelt love—but writer/director Andrew Haigh refuses to let it stand as status quo. Delivering an authentic portrayal of relationship that transcends sexual orientation, his unlikely pair is real because they connect on a level stronger than preconceptions should allow. It’s the matching of a brazenly open character who’d rather verbally spar with a disapproving bystander than brush him off and his opposite with Russell’s (Tom Cullen) self-conscious fear of letting the public know the real him that resonates because their sexual spark evolves into a human connection. They didn’t want more than a one-night stand yet morning conversation replaced physical embrace to the point neither could walk away. One look of longing across a lively, pulsating gay bar becomes a short weekend of brutally honest introspection that ends up an important turning point in both their lives.

Cullen and New are fantastic in their roles, surprising in their vulnerability and strength ebbing and flowing as comfort levels rise and drop. For Cullen’s Russell, a natural state of sheepish insecurity makes way into a man who believes in those around him and ultimately decides to believe in himself. In contrast, New’s Glen is brash, loud, exciting, and fearless in his sexuality to the point over-compensation looks to own the broken heart lying beneath. Unafraid to yell at strangers out a window, call friends ‘Cock’ in public, or yearn to make-out in an apartment hallway if for no other reason than to freak the hetero couple at the elevator, it is his devastating inability to show confidence in the person under the label of ‘gay’ that will touch your soul. Like any scorned lover baring scars, Glen only fears true intimacy while Russell’s closed-off persona craves nothing else.

Haigh captures every little moment of awkwardness, searching, and discovering of this pairings’ earliest hours. Lulls in conversation make way for canned questions, but the banality always leads into passages of passionate ideology and strong viewpoints held close to the chest. They laugh at Russell’s matter-of-fact answer of “yes” when asked in he’s ever saved anyone lifeguarding, they fight through embarrassment when riding a single bike like teenagers on their way to school, and they give themselves over to each other in bed when the foreplay of intellect morphs into the need for carnal pleasure. This is you and your girlfriend/boyfriend in the early days of feeling each other out and understanding what makes them tick. The fact it’s two men engaging in those same rituals shouldn’t disgust—it should enlighten you to comprehend how love’s simplicity transcends gender.

It’s about being true to oneself and neither lead can honestly say they are until the final frame—if ever. Even amongst friends and confidants there is a level of uncomfortability, putting on an act we’re all guilty of in our own lives with perhaps less import. Russell’s best-friend/surrogate brother Jamie (Jonathan Race) is one of the few who know his sexual orientation and yet he still can’t talk openly about it despite complete candor with everything else. This is the one person besides a revolving door of men at bars who knows his true self, but society clouds him from giving full trust. It’s a reluctance Glen might wish he possessed considering his flat mate Jill (Laura Freeman) has no shame in spilling personal secrets or expressing how she sees his desire to visit America and follow a dream as joke.

The relationship becomes all the more potent as a result. They may only have known each other for two days but no one else knows them better. Both know a weekend is all they get, but it doesn’t matter when neither has lived more in the twenty-something years before it. Never have they had the confidence to ignore the peanut gallery and grip what they want tightly. While it may be bittersweet, what transpires between them is an awakening beyond the physical or mental. Love has touched them when neither anticipated it could. We may want to see them stay together forever—watching Glen stay or Russell insist he’ll follow—but Haigh shows we need nothing more than the teary-eyed embrace of two souls acknowledging the other without filter to see they’ll never let the other go.

Love and understanding exist; we simply need to show the compassion necessary to let them grow. The ignorance of a million bullies will never be converted until the victims convert themselves. It’s so much easier to crawl inside yourself and hide for eternity than face the impossible realization you deserve happiness as much as the rest. Both Cullen and New portray this sense in each frame whether smiling, crying, scowling, or simply being. Their characters may not end up closer to bliss as the credits roll, but they do finally acquiesce to the fact they have the capacity to find it.

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