REVIEW: ‘Weekend’ (2011)

Grade: A-

The greatest challenge facing most romantic films today is the genuine difficulty in endowing the central relationship with any kind of meaningful weight or sense of urgency. Far too often the priority of offerings within the genre is to feed audiences the more marketable happy ending and, by effect, a hollow reaffirmation of true love’s capacity to endure. When that happy ending feels unearned or that it somehow betrays the characters we get to know onscreen, is that false affirmation actually worth expending a more truthful conversation about what love and affection are capable of providing, for better and for worse? Can’t more be expected of our modern romances?

Andrew Haigh’s melancholy yet joyous Weekend counts on no such delusions when it comes to mapping the direction of its characters. As a result, the romance at its center aches with searing honesty while challenging our perception of what love should be expected to offer us. At the same time, it retains an endearing tenderness and sweetness that captures precisely what those almost absurdly intense first few days of a truly meaningful relationship can feel like. As you watch the movie’s two lovers share the screen, it feels – at that very moment in time – as if theirs is the only relationship in the universe that matters.

The film opens on a nondescript Friday evening with Russell (Tom Cullen) readying himself for a small party his best friend is hosting. After enough time has passed to make a moderately decent showing, Russell excuses himself ostensibly to retire back to his flat for sleep. Instead of going straight home, he stops by a gay bar for a few drinks. After cruising a guy named Glen (Chris New), Russell brings him back to his place to have sex. The next morning Glen and Russell connect on a more emotional and intellectual level, eventually find themselves spending the vast majority of the remaining weekend in each other’s company. As the film’s title might suggest, an expiration date is attached to this romance. Any connection Russell and Glen might make is compounded by the latter’s plans to leave Sunday for long-term studying in the United States.

The two men use what time they have available to them to get to know each other. Russell, we understand, is the more reserved of the two. He never knew his parents. He is more reticent when discussing his sexuality or his love life and, as a result, seems to hold his friends at a distance. Glen, the art student, is in many ways the couple’s more overt half. He came out of the closet quite early. He gets into arguments with strangers at bars who are uncomfortable with how graphically he talks about his sex life. He clearly still hurts from the fallout of his previous relationship and therefore, we infer, keeps his sexual partners at arm’s length. The trajectory of Glen’s life is decidedly more unwieldy than Russell’s; even his friends don’t actually think he will make it through two years of art school.

When together, Glen and Russell share their life stories, go out drinking, discuss the broad politics of gay rights, take drugs and have lots of sex – not necessarily in that order. Their complementary personalities combust in ways that are occasionally baffling to them, but strangely thrilling at the same time. They hardly know each other, yet the connection they make – both physically and emotionally – is undeniable. Sunday afternoon comes all too quickly.

Admittedly, a romantic chamber piece with a prepackaged countdown hardly qualifies new hat; many will likely draw comparisons to conceptually similar films like Before Sunrise and the great Certified Copy. It’s not an unfair comparison, but what truly sets Weekend on its own course is Haigh’s eye for specificity. While those aforementioned films (marvelously) use their love interests as a means of addressing loftier questions like existentialism (Sunrise) or art (Copy), it is all achieved rather overtly. Haigh never attempts to frame his story against a larger, more ambitious conversation. He makes it a point to keep his sense of scale reigned in, explicitly portraying little beyond the specific vocal and physical dialogue Russell and Glen share while together. He additionally trusts his leads Cullen and New to explore their characters’ idiosyncrasies organically and on their own terms. As a result, these two men feel like entirely real people making a connection as unique individuals. At a time when love interests at the movies are frequently written conveniently to move the romance forward, it is actually the love interests themselves in Haigh’s film who shape what their relationship becomes.

That is not to say the specificity of Weekend makes it esoteric. Universal truths speak volumes here, precisely because they are found in the smallest of details. When Russell and Glen get drunk or high, it diminishes their inhibitions enough that they are able to speak of themselves and each other with candidness that’s uncommon for two essential strangers. When they talk politics, it says less about the polemics of LGBT rights than it does about the way they perceive their respective sexual orientations. When they have sex, the camera lingers on very specific acts of lovemaking not because they titillate, but because it imbues the relationship with a physical chemistry that is every bit as crucial as their verbal chemistry.

Most importantly, Weekend offers what really should not be a unique outlook on what makes a relationship truly meaningful. As countless cinematic romances imply, we tend to think only the relationships that endure are the ones that count. But what of the relationships marked by impermanence? Is there no value to be found even when the constraints of time and circumstance cut short a promising romance? It’s impossible to ascertain that Russell and Glen would have lasted well beyond the weekend, had life only panned out differently. But there is little doubt those few days they spend together stand to influence almost every other relationship in their futures, which may or may not include a reunion some day. Haigh accomplishes in a remarkably short timeframe what is impossible for other filmmakers: he tells a beautiful story of a love that endures despite its astounding brevity.

Bottom Line: Maintaining an eye for details big and small, Weekend is a deeply felt and refreshingly truthful romance with great performances and a beautiful script.

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  • Excellent review! Loved the comparisons to ‘Before Sunrise’ and ‘Certified Copy.’ I cannot wait to see this film as it sounds much more authentic and compelling than the dreadfully inflated ‘Like Crazy.’

    • Thanks Alex! I definitely hope you get a chance to see it soon. I have a feeling that this will be one of those movies where I’ll be devastated the first time I hear somebody say they didn’t like it. I still think ‘Certified Copy’ is my favorite movie of the year, but ‘Weekend’ is definitely the more romantic film.

      And I have no doubt this is a superior film to ‘Like Crazy’ (I am basing that strictly on the awful trailer and your general distaste for it…I could be surprised, I suppose).

  • This is one of my most anticipated films. I am so happy that this film isn’t full of gay stereotypes and seems to really be a substantial piece of cinema. I am very excited. Thank you for your review!

    • Thanks for your thoughts Casey!

      And I sort of shared your concerns too. I will say that the characters feel a little archetypal, and they fit the “conservative & straight-laced boy and play-it-by-ear free-spirit guy” dichotomy that is ubiquitous in a lot of movie couples, but I do think that the specific details of characterization really help authenticate both characters.

      And I agree with your final sentiment: great cinema, above all else.

  • such a lovely review you gave. i didn’t knew about this movie until i saw the trailer and now i see it getting great reviews. i wont be able to catch it soon but i really want to. movies like this are rare, it looks very honest and true portrayal, something i really want to see in movies nowadays.

  • Jose

    Agree with Asif, really excited for this.

  • Asif and Jose – absolutely see this one when you get a chance. I’m glad it’s struck a chord with so many people, and I hope you both love it as much as I did.

    • Raphael

      Hey, I live in a remote country in the jungles. Well, not really, but close enough. Anyway, I can’t seem to find a torrent for this movie or a download link anywhere on the web. It won’t be shown in any theaters in my uber conservative, Catholic country, so I was wondering if you might have any ideas? Because I really want to see this film.

      • I’m not sure if you have access to Netflix, but it is on there. Otherwise I am sure it will be on iTunes within the next couple of months.

  • I saw this 2 weeks ago and I am in the minority for not liking it. The acting is great and I like that they have a lot of discussion in their short time. But it seems overall and in the end that their relationship is forced to connect quickly.

    • Hmmm…interesting. I’m definitely sorry you didn’t like it, Mikhael, and I can understand your reservations concerning their having to connect too quickly.

      I guess what sold me on the organic nature of the direction these characters take is in those discussions, the attention paid to Glen & Russell’s individual characterizations and in the actors’ verbal and physical chemistry.

      I really got a sense that these two were right for each other at that particular point in time and, if the relationship was pushed too quickly, that perhaps it was of the characters’ own (subconscious) volition and not of the writer/director’s personal intentions.

      Thanks for commenting, Mikhael!!!

  • Jose

    I have a love hate relationship with this movie.

    On one hand, it was one of the best written films of 2011(seriously, if you replace Bridesmaids with this movie then tha Original Screenplay category at the Oscars would be perfect) and the acting from both leads were phenomenal, but God, I hate romances where the characters are obviously meant for each other but they’re too idiotic to do anything about it.

    I’ll give this movie 50,000 bonus points though for having an ending that made me cry though.

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