Praise was placed on Brokeback Mountain and its pseudo-independent presentation. When you’d argue with the ones who supported it, it was almost as if they were justifying that it wasn’t a “gay movie” because the story itself - Romeo and Juliet in nature - is universal. Why a film can’t be good and wholly queer in 2005? We all know. But since then, we’ve grown - and post-2010 queer cinema has been fearless in being what it is without any inch of the condescending or pandering to the straight crowd via flamboyant supporting characters or “universal” classic narratives. Ira Sachs, for example, directed Keep the Lights On in 2012 - a phenomenal character study that manages to be universal (a relationship torn apart by drug dependence), but still queer (a character finds it sneakier to cheat behind the back of his partner because many males looking for homosexuality won’t admit to the action having taken place). It’s refreshing how brave Sachs is in not even underlining the gayness of his characters. They’re living, they're breathing, they know what they know because they’ve lived it all along, and they’re slowly living their tragedy in a state of confusion. It’s not just a “gay film”, but it is a “gay film”; the latter underlining it being a human film.
Andrew Haigh has become quite successful with his queer-themed HBO series Looking - where characters behave just like you’d expect from the usually inconsistent and baffling blueprint of the medium’s format. But the man only established his position via his directorial debut - the critically successful 2011 drama Weekend - in the same way that Lena Dunham’s Tiny Furniture led her into attracting all to the dilemmas of her four central hipster royalties in Girls. If Haigh’s series is a bit too on-the-nose and a bit pandering to all - as can often be the case - his Weekend, untouched and presented with his own Polaroid vision, is a rare breed of queer film. A film that’s the level of fearlessness, but finds universality in the bodies and the sunlight in bedrooms within the framework of falling in love. A nostalgic, frustrating haven that isn’t completely understood. But only these two characters could lay face to face in white bedsheets and allow for the other to re-enact coming out to his father. That’s something that is felt purely in the gay mindset of those raised during a time where Brokeback Mountain’s merit was on how close to “straight” it was.
The first few scenes of Weekend introduce us to the character of Russell (played with a special kind of sincerity by Tom Cullen) and his world. Haigh directs these scenes with emphasis on the loneliness of the character without really shading him as someone depressed or isolated from the world. He stares out balconies at the buildings in his Nottingham apartment complex but doesn’t see anybody, and he sits around with friends, but doesn’t necessarily find himself engaged in delicate or personal conversation. He’s in his mid-thirties and he walks impatiently into nightclubs to rock his socks without much of any fulfillment. The opening of Weekend, however, is showing us the night he actually finds someone special, and it’s a one-night stand that we, as voyeur, are invited to see as Russell engages in delicate and personal conversation with a complete stranger and thus the sincere realization that two people are falling in love with one another.
But it’s already rocky. Over just a weekend, there are potholes that are constantly confronting both Russell and this guy, Glen (Chris New). Russell feels he's figured out Glen, and Glen so the same with Russell. Russell feels he must ultimately fill in those said potholes to help Glen realize the possibilities that are between them. But Glen just insists on declination, however much is insinuated that he is aware where this is beginning to stand. As he argues with Russell, its a mistake on his part when his “I do not want a boyfriend…” is separated by a very careful pause before finishing “… right now”. It destructs his facade and proves to debunk what he’s so against admitting.
Andrew Haigh’s screenplay is full of this dialogue - sometimes messy and realistic to a degree that it’s almost surprising that the majority of it wasn’t improvised. It rolls off the tongues of both Cullen and New with such ease that the entire dynamic of Weekend is felt, and never once feels false. Their chemistry is undeniable, and it’s why the arguments feel so powerful. A scene late in the film, when both characters are high off cocaine, they ramble and stumble over words and begin their revelations - and it culminates in a silent, painful moment at a window and where Haigh finally - after hiding so many of the sex scenes - lets us watch as they make love. It’s no longer an act of frisky, lustful need - but the kind of beautiful connecting films hardly ever dare going: the territory of authentic romance.
As I said before, the film is shot like a Polaroid picture come to life. Haigh’s choice of cinematographer is Urszula Pontikos, who frames scenes with an unbalanced quality where whites are very calm, colors match that coolness, lens flares are never overbearing, and blurs are there for a dreamlike effect. Russell’s apartment feels homey and comfortable, Glen’s red hoodie pops as it walks casually from that apartment the morning after the first night’s fuck, and the nighttime Nottingham view is cotton candy and as bittersweet as the experiences of these two men.
After they’re last time making love on this weekend together, Haigh has the camera hovering above the men as they lay face to face in bed, and Russell pretends to be the father, and Glen comes out. “Dad, I got something to tell you. I’m gay.” And Haigh doesn’t cut once during this scene. They’re just there with one another, and it’s playing out in real time. “I like guys,” Glen continues. And after so much bickering to Russell about his confliction with his own self-appreciation as a queer man and his disapprovals with gays as a generalized community of promiscuous sex robots who can never be monogamous, Glen finds both acceptance from a life full of bigotry and devotion following a history of romantic betrayal. Russell tells him: “It doesn’t matter to me, because I love you just the same. And I couldn’t be more proud of you than if you were the first man on the moon.”
Weekend is a film that’s wholly queer, as it finds a heartbeat that could only be felt in that realm. It’s universal, though, without pandering to familiar tropes or plugging into any other kind of viewpoint. It’s universality comes from one simple thing: it’s a film that presents, unfiltered and realistically, the true realization that love is a complicated and very real thing.