Long have I extolled the virtues of Netflix in these hallowed pages. While the LGBT content may be, um, lacking (1313: UFO Invasion, anyone?) there are plenty of gems in there that either never received a wide release or are difficult to track down. Imagine my surprise when Andrew Haigh’s 2011 romantic drama Weekend showed up on the streaming video service.
I’d heard a sprinkling of info about this film on various social media outlets throughout 2011 but had assumed it had died a death upon release and I’d never get to see it.
Weekend tells a simple and familiar story: Russell (Tom Cullen) and Glen (Chris New) meet in a gay bar on Friday night and have what they assume will be a boozy one-night stand; but over the course of the weekend their bond begins to deepen and develop into something stronger. But things are complicated by the fact that Glen is planning to leave the country for good on Sunday…
Taking its cues from movies such as Before Sunrise is no mean feat as the experiment of being stuck with just two characters for almost two hours is a big risk to take. But Haigh, along with Cullen and New, managed to create complex, three-dimensional characters that complement each other extremely well. Russell is a quiet and unassuming lifeguard, not in the closet but not exactly open about his sexuality either – his world is all about safety and shelter, a result of a childhood spent in various foster homes. Glen, on the other hand, is outspoken and combative, an aspiring artist who aims to challenge society’s indifference to gay culture – and sex in particular.
Made on a budget of just $200,000 (£120,000), this is a small, intimate film that focuses on these two characters for almost every frame of the movie. Shot in tight close-ups and using long takes, we’re painfully close to the action; every gesture, every flicker of hope and regret, everything said and not said is amplified. This is no epic Angels in America take on the gay experience; Russell and Glen discuss their romantic pasts and the state of society’s attitude to gays without the aid of heavenly visions. It’s modern gay life that’s tangible to most of us – unglamorous and mundane, which inversely makes it feel every bit as epic as Tony Kushner’s opus.
Even the settings are unique in the LGBT genre – there’s none of the high glamour or tantalising seediness that’s prevalant in most LGBT movies, but rather a drab and pedestrian mix of locations: the high-rise flat, the divey gay bar, the bland local leisure centre. The painful realism of the film doesn’t just come from being a gay love story – it runs much deeper than that. Having grown up in a suburban shithole, the film seems all too familiar to me; the shabby provincial gay bar, the grey tower block on an uninspiring housing estate, the sense of hostility from ignorant pub patrons. This is gay life with all its glossy sheen chipped, cracked and peeling.
As Russell and Glen, Tom Cullen and Chris New are outstanding. The improvisational nature of their performances sucks you in to this incredibly intimate story, and at times it’s like you’re so close to them it feels awkward. Their weekend is so private and isolated that you feel like a voyeur, so watch out – this is a movie that will sneak up on you and leave you broken, like a 21st century Brief Encounter.
I won’t spoil the ending for you; suffice it to say director Haigh opts for a realistic approach right up to the final frames. Weekend is one of those rare beasts – an intelligent, realistic and deeply emotional drama that reflects some of the harsh truths about modern gay life. And it’s also safe to say it’s one of the finest entries in the LGBT film canon of the 21st century.