Film review: Weekend
A one-night stand matures into a deeply romantic and revelatory weekend in Andrew Haigh’s wonderful second feature. Samuel Wigley is utterly convinced
Filmed in some of the same Nottingham settings featured in Karel Reisz’s kitchen-sink classic Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960), Andrew Haigh’s wonderful second feature takes place during a single weekend in the city. Tired, Russell (Tom Cullen) excuses himself from his straight friends’ polite party one Friday evening but detours to a nightclub on his way home, where he picks up Glen (Chris New), an opinionated young artist. What begins as a one-night stand deepens over the course of a lazy Saturday and Sunday, as the pair lounge around in bed, walk the streets or talk long into the night, buoyed by a little drink, cocaine and the ingenuous ease that comes with mutual attraction.
At times reminiscent of Richard Linklater’s talky two-handers Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004), Haigh’s film is at once more credible and more intimate. In place of the Linklater films’ high-sounding verbiage, the conversation between Russell and Glen feels less affected, ranging widely but tied always to the couple’s exploration of their burgeoning affinity, each testing the waters of the other’s sensibility. Self-assured, outspoken and frank about his sexuality, Glen pulls out a tape recorder during their first morning in bed to quiz Russell about their night together for an ‘art project’. Putting their shared physical intimacy into words visibly unnerves Russell, who – while ostensibly out of the closet – is more reserved, and careful to whom he reveals his gayness. For Glen, such discretion is tantamount to walking on eggshells, being wary of causing offence to a straight world that accepts homosexuality only as long as it isn’t confronted with the icky reality. For Russell, however, the affairs of the heart are not a political battleground.
Nor, perhaps, are they for Haigh. Where his first feature, Greek Pete (2009), was a documentary about male escorts in London, Weekend is a move away from the potential ghetto of gay-themed cinema on to the universal terrain of desire, hope and disappointment. The result utterly convinces as a portrait of the first days of a new relationship, Haigh working wonders with long, crisply framed takes and two astonishingly sincere and nuanced performances. This is a film full of idle, languid moments, which are transformed by the context into instances of discovery, revelations of personality. One sequence finds the lovers chatting in bed after sex, when Glen pretends to be Russell’s father in order to enact a ‘coming out’ scene that Russell – who was fostered as a child – has never been able to realise. It’s a charming, generous piece of wish-fulfilment, the threatening sweetness undercut by the perversity of this ‘father-son’ encounter occurring between the sheets.
Only Glen’s imminent departure for a new life in the US, which forces the relationship to flower over 48 hours, smacks of familiar movie dramatics, occasioning a will-he-won’t-he-get-on-the-train finale that edges towards the clichés of romantic comedy. But Haigh steers clear of an easy-option resolution, and when Russell overcomes his guardedness about displaying his affections publicly to kiss Glen on the platform, the instant is punctuated by a perfectly timed catcall. Weekend is finally a deeply romantic film, assured of the pleasure that one person can find in another, but rooted in the quirks and textures of contemporary British life.
Restoration comedy: Abbas Kiarostami talks to Geoff Andrew about Certified Copy (September 2010)
Wonderful Town reviewed by Tony Rayns (April 2009)
Debrief encounter: Nick James on Before Sunset (August 2004)