Studio:The Criterion Collection Year: 2011 Cast: Tom Cullen, Chris New Director: Andrew Haigh Release Date: August 21, 2012 Rating: Not Rated for (language, adult themes, sexual content, drug use) Run Time: 01h:37m:00s Genre(s): romance, gay
Weekend wisely avoids most of the traps of its genre, and is brought to life by great performances and a disarmingly naturalistic tone.
Movie Grade: A
DVD Grade: A
Two rather different boys (Tom Cullen and Chris New) meet at a club in the English Midlands, spend a night together, and enjoy a long weekend getting to know each other. That’s about it for the plot of Weekend, but thanks to a couple of tremendous performances and the naturalistic direction of director Andrew Haigh, there’s a good deal here to enjoy.
Russell and Glen are imperfectly perfectly matched. Russell is uncomfortable in his own skin, insecure about his job and nervous about coming off as a bit too obviously gay. An opening scene has him dancing by himself at a club, trying very obviously to seem cool and failing rather miserably. There are moments like that throughout the film: quietly understated character bits that don’t announce themselves more than is necessary, and provide a subtle but welcome reprieve from the heavy dialogue in many scenes. That contrast is what sets Weekend apart. It’s rare that a movie with this intimate a scale exhibits such a keen visual sense. The type of story that could have easily wound up looking like a play that happened to be filmed is given a great deal more life thanks to director Andrew Haigh’s assured hand. In contrast to Russell, Glen is all bluster. He seems to know what he wants and is more than happy to tell anyone and everyone what they want, as well. Eventually, and unsurprisingly, both men reveal more layers. In defending his more conventional dreams, Russell finds a reserve of confidence, while Glen's assuredness gives way to a looming insecurity. Both performers are wonderfully naturalistic. Weighty digressions rarely feel forced. There’s practically a genre of meet-and-chat-about-life films, and clunky, on-the-nose dialogue is a practically unavoidable hazard. Here, though, there’s a strict realism at work, both in the conversations as well as in the cinematography and the dynamic but wonderfully un-showy camerawork. The character Glen’s pretensions to artistic truth (and his believable but occasionally obnoxious willingness to discuss them) provide a bit of a crutch in that regard, giving both boys deep and weighty stuff to talk about. Russell’s sometimes charmed, sometimes fascinated, sometimes annoyed demeanor when quizzed by Glen makes him a fitting stand-in for the audience in that regard. Both men reveal themselves gradually through the course of the titular weekend, but we’re often coming to understand Russell along with Glen. And, though sex is a factor throughout, from their first night through the rest of the weekend, director Haigh wisely saves the love scenes for late in the movie. It would have been easy to lead off with the sex, or else to go in the opposite direction and avoid it altogether. Instead, by the time we get to the good stuff we're engaged with Russell and Glenn in such a way that it’s simultaneously more erotic and less exploitative. This is all to say that Haigh’s film wisely avoids the traps of this particular genre, and is especially disarming as a result.
As for Criterion’s disc: Weekend was filmed on a budget, and it shows a bit in the resulting style, but only just a bit. Director Haigh makes the most of his budget with a moody, (often) muted palette that suits the material perfectly. There’s a fair bit of noise in the image, and occasionally some digital shimmering. A hazy look occasionally prevails, but given the relatively low-budget nature of the movie, it’s an often beautiful looking film that Criterion presents (as is typical) wonderfully. As for audio, the DTS-MA 2.0 track is relatively flawless, again given the constraints of the film’s budget. It’s easy to notice a bad audio track in a film this dialogue-heavy, and there’s none of that here. The sound is clear and enveloping.
As for the extras: Andrew Haigh’s Weekend is a thirty minute piece with interviews from several members of the film. It’s a quick and informative making-of. In The Sex Scenes, Haigh briefly discusses the sex in the film, his use thereof, and a few common misconceptions about what happens when gay dudes get it on. Audition Tape contrasts the taped audition scenes from the two main actors with the finished bits from the film. Chris New’s Footage is approximately ten minutes of personally shot behind-the-scenes footage from actor Chris New. Similarly, Quinn & Scout is an essay from the film’s set photographers as they discuss their involvement with the film against a montage of their photos. Finally, Two Short Films includes two of Andrew Haigh’s early short films: Cahuenga Blvd from 2003 and Five Miles Out from 2009. They’re both tone poems in many regards, with the latter film being the more polished. A nice inclusion, especially for those interested in charting Haigh’s progress as a filmmaker. Also included among the extras is the film’s theatrical trailer and a booklet with an essay by film critic David Lim.
It’s doing a bit of a disservice to Weekend to discuss it primarily in the mode of gay films, but that theme does run throughout it’s worth classing Haigh’s film as one of the best in a new wave of films with gay themes but which also function perfectly well as universal relationship dramas. The characters are charming, and director Haigh’s visual style and tone set this one apart. It may be a tad graphic for some audiences, but I fell in love with this sensually honest and moving drama.