Andrew Haigh’s Weekend is a wonderfully intimate and utterly engaging film, gently provocative whilst maintaining a very genuine heart. It follows 48 hours in the life of Russell, during which he drunkenly meets and sleeps with Glen, an artist working on a project about gay sex. They spend the weekend together, discovering more about themselves and their attitudes, passing through rites of passage and coming to terms with their identities.
Subtle but perfectly pitched acting, from newcomers Tom Cullen and Chris New, really make the film. They are completely believable in their very different representations of modern gay men, from the outspoken, unashamed Glen, to Russell’s inability to quite come to terms with who he is. Haigh has moved the characters away from common stereotypes and built them on far more delicate lines, a move which makes the film instantly more real and relatable. A few words must also be said on Haigh’s fabulous writing. Obviously a fanatical observer, he includes nuances of everyday life instantly recognisable, really grounding the film firmly in the here and now, and making it compulsive viewing.
Weekend is quietly intellectual, dealing with quite large issues about selfhood and identity, but does so in a really interesting, watchable way. It also poses questions about society’s engagement with homosexuality, which are actually very important. The film toys with straight/gay relationships in small ways throughout, from kids shouting ’queer’ to Glen’s philosophical argument with straight men in a bar. However, it is Glen’s art project which stokes the fire, as he talks about how people are unable to treat gay sex as rationally they do straight sex: the ‘straights’ shy away from it and the ‘gays’ look at it gratuitously. In this sense, the film is self-reflexive, as Haigh’s use of fairly graphic gay sex scenes (yet no more graphic than straight sex scenes in mainstream films- see Blue Valentine) directly challenges the viewer’s perceptions of themselves. Personally, I was no more or less uncomfortable than I am watching straight sex scenes, yet it is an imaginative way to put the theory of the film directly into practice.
Weekend has made impressive leaps in ‘normalising’ gay relationships on screen. It’s not a romanticised love-in, but two very normal guys, with normal lives, ideas and hang-ups, fascinating each other. It’s real and natural, but should not be isolated in this. Weekend needs to be the watershed in a changing of media attitudes towards depicting gay relationships. The film proves that a gay love story is every bit as romantic as a straight one, if not more so for the stigma they must surpass to be together. Haigh has balanced the task perfectly: enough romance to stir the emotions, enough realism to not be a gimmick. This is a brave film, and will probably be very polarising. Yet as long as it starts a debate, it will have achieved its aims of bringing homosexuality out of the cultural shadows.