When writer-director Andrew Haigh’s Weekend played the gay film festival circuit in 2011, it marked the arrival of a bold new voice in LGBT cinema.
Emotionally (and physically) naked, and brimming with political thought on the gay experience, it’s a can’t-miss romantic drama. Best of all: You can watch this British import on Netflix.
Below, join me as I walk you through my take on this modern queer classic.
What’s It About?
Weekend follows Russell (Tom Cullen), a semi-closeted lifeguard who picks up Glen (Chris New), an out-and-proud artist, for a one-night stand.
The next morning, Glen asks Russell to be a part of his latest project—recording testimonials from the men he’s had sex with.
Russell agrees, and the chemistry between the two becomes more palpable as they enjoy a weekend of drink, drugs, sex and conversation.
The kicker? Glen is leaving on Monday for a two-year master’s program in America. As their 48-hour relationship draws to a close, they realize just how much they could lose when they lose touch with each other.
Why Does It Matter?
The Sex: Though the film hinges on Glen and Russell’s initial one-night stand, we don’t see any of it. Rather, Haigh skips forward to the next day and their hungover conversation about the night before.
We are teased by the duo’s nearly-naked bodies and Russell’s description of what happened—I believe the term “fingering your bum” comes up—but Haigh smartly holds off on giving us all the goods.
Throughout the weekend, Russell and Glen’s interactions become more and more sexually charged. A conversation about adoption humorously leads to a lustful need, for example.
When we finally see them go all the way, though, the sex is admittedly hot, but also deeply meaningful: a true physical expression of everything they’ve said and experienced together.
To their credit Cullen and New aren’t afraid to “go there,” letting Russell and Glenn bare all and show each sweaty second of their encounter. Without any , and embodying their characters’ sexual hang-ups along the way—a rarity in any film, let alone a gay one.
The Politics: Throughout the film, Haigh sprinkles in conversations around modern gay politics. No matter where they are (walking through a carnival, sitting at a straight pub, in Russell’s kitschy apartment), these two never tire of discussing whether people should get married, the difficulties of assigning sexual roles, and, most moving by film’s end, what’s important about the coming out experience.
Because Weekend is a character piece, with very little narrative thrust, the film becomes about Russell and Glen’s thoughts on these subjects—almost to the point of exhaustion. Haigh is particularly attuned to the queer community that rarely sees authentic, meaningful conversations about their everyday existence in a world made for heterosexual people.
It isn’t every queer film that focuses so explicitly on modern LGBT issues, and dares to alienate some with its characters’ own preachy thoughts. That’s bold.
Avoiding Stereotypes: I described Russell as “semi-closeted” (out to his close friends, not to his co-workers) and Glen as “loud-and-proud,” but don’t get too attached to those labels.
Haigh sets up “types” for his two main characters from the outset—going so far as to give Glen the groan-worthy line of the century: “I don’t do boyfriends”—and then allows them to defy those labels.
They butt heads—particularly in one drug-fueled argument about commitment and marriage. Ultimately, though, both men express who they are and wind up feeling respected for it.
Glen and Russell don’t wake up Monday morning the same people they were on Friday night. And they’re not the same characters, either. Instead, they have transformed from well-worn stereotypes into fully realized characters with distinct points of view.
Where Have I Seen Them Before?
The Writer-Director: Andrew Haigh followed up his success on Weekend with HBO’s Looking. While it had its detractors, that series’ best episodes mimic Weekend’s “day in the life” immediacy and respect for warring opinions.
The Actors: Openly gay Chris New has been making his mark in British theater, starring in several productions with the Royal Shakespeare Theater. He’s also good mates with Sir Ian McKellen, and often runs lines with him.
His straight co-star, Tom Cullen, has achieved more success since Weekend, playing Lord Anthony Gillingham on Downton Abbey, and appearing in no less than five upcoming feature films.
No More Questions. Just Watch It.
Now that you know everything there is to know about Weekend, it’s time to watch the film for yourself.
Filled with long, polemical conversations, this trailblazing two-hander might turn off some viewers, but the emotional payoff is well worth it.
A warning: you may want to get some Kleenex.
Got a favorite LGBT film? Let us know in the comments below.