Here it is, Gentle Reader, my first movie review. As a lover of movies and analysis, please, I welcome your feedback. So without further ado, today I would like to discuss the 2011 film Weekend. Weekend is a film about two gay men who find each other through a one night stand, but are soon surprised by their instant connection and by what this connection helps them learn about themselves.
The film is written, edited and directed by Andrew Haigh, who I am sure is about to become a lot more famous for his directing and writing on HBO’s series Looking. (If you are interested, you can find my review of the series Looking here) Weekend stars Tom Cullen as Russell and Chris New as Glen, each superb in their role. Weekend had its world premiere in March 2011 and has since gone on to acquire much critical acclaim, including several award nominations and wins for the film’s director and actors.
If you have not yet seen this film, I strongly recommend it. Its performances are wonderful, the plot is heartfelt and the emotion is relatable. It should be warned that this review does contain some spoilers so beware. Below are my thoughts, for better or worse.
We begin the film by watching Russell bathe, dress and attend a party at his straight friend Jamie’s house. While at the party Russell appears to be disconnect and lonely; distracted and wanting to be somewhere else. He makes an excuse to leave early, ends up at a gay club and eventually meets Glen.
Jump to the next morning, where instead of awkwardly and quickly parting ways, like the end of many gay one night stands, the two men do something rather unusual: they talk about their hookup. Glen, an artist, is working on a project where he tape records people talking about sex, life, etc. and he begins to tape Russell. This rare, morning after reflection on the time they spent together leads both characters down a road of self-reflection that neither saw coming.
Sit Back and Observe:
This film has very few edited cuts within scenes. We, the audience, watch the characters talk, eat, walk and lie in bed for lengthy, uninterrupted shots. These lengthy shots place us as silent observers sitting in Russell’s apartment or the bar simply watching them interact across this three-day affair. All of this creates a calm, real-time feel to their interactions filled with dialogue that feels more like improvisation than pre-written words (It has been noted by the director in interviews that much of the film ended up being improvised by the two leads). The film doesn’t even have background music for setting tones and moods. The only music we ever hear is situational, like at the club.
Russell is more of a watcher than a talker. Mostly he seems lonely, set apart from the world around him and a little sad. His world is quiet, boring and mundane. At one point I found myself wondering, “Do I have as much silence in my life as Russell does?”.
I enjoyed the insecurities he displayed because they were relatable. I could find myself in his awkwardness and shyness, especially in relation to his budding sexuality. He is not necessarily closeted, but he is still ‘trying on’ being gay, like a new suit. He’s still stiff and afraid that he’s not wearing it right. Straight people mostly surround him, and we can feel him longing for a gay outlet.
Glen is the opposite of Russell. He is spontaneous and loud; very outspoken and confident in his sexuality. Gay people surround him in his daily life, and although his gay friends can annoy him, he seems mostly happy to have the gay company. Glen, like Russell, is searching for meaning and something better in life. He wants to escape his current location and has plans to move to Oregon in two days. Glen wants to create a new version of himself so he will feel free and not get stuck in ‘old friend concrete’.
Repetition Leads to Change:
This film uses repetition, with slight variance, to display character arches. Glen leaves Russell’s apartment three times in the film. Each time Russell stands at his window and watches Glen far below as he walks away. The first time Glen simply walks away. The second time Glen looks back as he walks, showing he is thinking about Russell. As Glen walks away the last time, he moves noticeably slower and at one point completely stops and turns around to look back at Russell’s window before he continues on. The variance is subtle but effective in conveying how the characters’ connection is growing.
One final act of repetition worth noting: At the beginning of the film Russell brings Glen coffee as he wakes up, then towards the end of the film, in an almost identically shot scene, Glen brings Russell coffee in bed. This may seem too slight, but it shows their time together has come full circle.
Weekend opens an important discussion about what it is like to be a minority, homosexual man in a majority, heterosexual world. After their first night together, Glen and Russell hesitate and end up not hugging or kissing as they say goodbye in Russell’s hallway. A straight couple is hovering nearby and the two gays censor themselves because of this.
At several points in the film, Glen verbalizes his frustrations with gay censorship in a straight world. Below is one such expression…
Glen: “Gay people never talk about it ‘sex’ in public unless its just cheap innuendo. I think it’s cause they’re ashamed.”
Russell: “Maybe it’s just they’re a little bit embarrassed.”
Glen: “Isn’t that the same thing?”
This movie raises the question, “How much do straights repress gays and how much do we repress ourselves?”. Regardless, different people react differently in the face of repression. Glen responds by constantly yelling his gayness and individual rights at the world, trying to shock straight people with his voice. Conversely, Russell turns inward, becoming quiet and respectful, not wanting to make himself or straight people feel uncomfortable. At one point in the film, as Russell and Glen are walking around the city talking and flirting, I did find myself wishing they would hold hands.
My Favorite Moment:
After their second night together, Russell and Glen discuss the act of ‘coming out’ to parents. Russell keeps a journal dictating people’s coming out stories as told to him by various gay men he has come across. As an orphan Russell never came out to his biological parents, and Glen thinks that Russell collects other people’s ‘parent’ coming out stories since he does not have one of his own. In a moment that at first feels silly, Glen pretends to be Russell’s dad and Russell tells him he is gay. I was so moved by Glen’s reaction that I would rather show it to you than describe it.
Love Yourself First:
Perhaps this is Weekend’s real message. Russell and Glen seem perfect together, but neither seems completely ready to give themselves fully to someone else. Both characters need to learn to love and accept themselves more fully before they will ever be able to fully love and accept someone else. Love Yourself. A theme that keeps presenting itself in this blog, and I guess in life for anyone who is truly paying attention. Who knows, perhaps after a few years, Glen will return to Russell and they will finally be able to complete each other. We should all be so lucky.