fri 23/08/2019

Weekend | reviews, news & interviews

Weekend

Weekend

Quiet, detailed portrait of a gay encounter could use a little more wattage

From confidence to discomfort and back again: Tom Cullen and Chris New in 'Weekend'

Chris New’s nervy intensity is the big news in Weekend, an intermittently affecting British film that ought to bring this terrific theatre actor (he played Alan Cumming's lover in his breakthrough role in Bent) to a larger audience on screen. Playing one half of an incipient duo who are busy negotiating what this still-fledgling couple might mean both to one another and to themselves, New offers up a study in restlessness shot through with charisma that is astonishingly complete – so much so that you want to know far more about his character, Glen, than a contrastingly reticent movie ever allows.

Or perhaps it’s simply that writer-director Andrew Haigh is too savvy, not to mention sufficiently unschooled in Hollywood, to aim for cheap theatrics and unearned emotion when so much of daily existence has to do simply with getting by. To that end, Weekend follows two Nottingham gay men from their initial encounter in a bar through to sex, drugs and chat over the course of several days that, without giving too much away, come with a pre-ordained arc to their newfound rapport very clearly in sight.

Glen speaks sarcastically of “our Notting Hill moment”, even as he and Russell (Tom Cullen) get off on randy memories of Rupert Graves in A Room with a View. But everything about Haigh’s sophomore film wears its comparative rootedness in the reality of the pair’s immediate world with an invisible badge of honour, when at times a little bit more oomph and pizzazz wouldn’t necessarily go astray.

Conversation for Glen functions as an aphrodisiac all its own

Instead, we get lots of soulful, dark-eyed close-ups of Cullen, who very agreeably plays a genial lifeguard seen manoeuvring within a straight milieu before Glen enters – and shakes up – Russell’s sense of self: there’s something simultaneously sweet and ever so slightly poignant about Russell’s visits to the home of his best mate, a family man whose clamorous domesticity exists as an implicit rebuke to Russell’s own indrawn, solitary-seeming way of being.

Small wonder, then, that Russell isn’t entirely prepared when Glen greets their first morning together with a tape recorder and the desire to make absolutely plain what actually happened (or not) the night before. Conversation for Glen functions as an aphrodisiac all its own, even if he is quick to alert this latest bedmate that boyfriends aren’t really for him – a firm stance against commitment that the film, in essence a two-hander, will then proceed to challenge.

Weekend uses the accretion of individual reflection and shared moments to chart what the burgeoning affection between Glen and Russell means at any one time, whether the two are playing bumper cars, eating candy floss, or parrying the homophobic baiting of some local yobs. Indeed, it’s in keeping with the reined-in nature of the piece that even the implicit potential for violence – these streets, we come to feel, could well be mean – goes more or less untapped, Haigh’s focus directed instead towards an almost documentary-like approach to a fuller awareness of these guys as they open up to one another and to themselves. And when it's over? Guess what: life goes on.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone to hear that both men move from confidence to discomfort and back again and that their frank assessment of the male anatomy by no means precludes a shared tapping at the door of the psyche, as well. Handed the more vivid of the two roles, New neatly conveys the condition of self-exile that would appear to course within Glen, a gallery employee whose personal Elysium, he is convinced, lies elsewhere. (And how gratifying it must have been for this actor to inhabit saner corridors than was his bloodied, battered lot as Joe Orton in the West End adaptation a season or two ago of Prick Up Your Ears.)

I guess I’d like Weekend that bit more if its wattage was increased ever so slightly, the you-are-there feel on occasion exhibiting clichés of its own: the moody, dampened-down affect has a pro forma quality that can be as familiar in its way as Notting Hill-style glitz. Haigh deserves every kudos going for a refusal to trawl the path of sentimentality or sensation, letting the shifting eddies of desire and need tell their own, not always conclusive tale. But in the end, the film’s aesthetic is at once its banner achievement and source of frustration, too. If you’re going to be a fly on the wall, it does help to buzz.

  • Weekend is on UK release from Friday

Watch the trailer to Weekend

Haigh deserves every kudos going for a refusal to trawl the path of sentimentality or sensation

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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Comments

This film blew me away. Unfortunately a lot of the dialogue is mumbled so I had to see it 5 times and I STILL did not catch all of it. This is important since there is not a wasted line and the beauty of the film was in the unfolding character study. I look forward to I hope a sequel involving at least one of the characters and anything else that Haigh either writes or directs

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