Wednesday, June 7th, 2023

Much (over-)praised British movie

I am very grateful to Criterion for excellent DVDs of many important and/or great movies, but sometimes puzzled by picks (“Life Aquatic” in particular). Why Andrew Haigh’s (Greek Pete) 2011 “Weekend” rather than, say, “My Beautiful Launderette”? “Weekend” is well-acted in long unobtrusively filmed takes. On the half-hour making-of featurette Haigh says he intended the movie more as a character study than as a romance, not that the two are incompatible.

Set in Nottingham the movie begins on a Friday night with hirsute lifeguard Russell (Tom Cullen) leaving a mostly straight party and picking up the somewhat abrasive artist-wannabe Glen (Chris New) in a gay bar. Cut to waking up the next morning (Haigh explains why he did not want to show the sex between the two drunken young men, though not convincing me). Glen insists on interviewing Russell about the pickup for some dicey art project. Russell is reluctant and obviously generally guarded and not given to emotional display. We and Glen learn that Russell never knew his parents and was raised by foster parents. This emotionally impoverished past probably accounts for Russell’s furnishing his apartment in a high-rise with “vintage” (thrift-shop) stuff.

We never see where/how Glen lives. Glen is aggressively out-of-the-closet though not very forthcoming about his own feelings even while pushing disclosures from others. Having put their phone-numbers on each other’s mobile phones, Glen leaves, only to return quickly to tell Russell that he is going to Portland, Oregon the next day for a two-year program.

Glen does not seem to need to pack, and spends the day and last night talking to and having sex with Russell (taking him to a going-away party that they leave quickly). Haigh irritates me by claiming to show male-male sex face-to-face. Though that is possible, the positioning of the actors is anatomically impossible for male-male penetration, a pet peeve of mine in many gay movies. (Glen is the penetrator btw.) Urszula Pontikos shot it with delicacy I consider excessive, though I admire what she did in the tight space of Russell’s apartment and guerrilla-style elsewhere around Nottingham.

The movie is very, very talky and (like “Before Sunrise”) requires suspension of disbelief in the forging of so deep a bond between not obviously compatible persons in a very short time. That Glen’s “I don’t do boyfriends” is a brittle defense is less surprising.

The scene I like best is between Russell and Jamie (Jonathan Race) his best buddy since childhood outside the birthday party of Jamie’s daughter (Russell’s god-daughter), casting light on Russell’s earlier statement that he never talked about sex and desire with his buddy.

The bonus features in addition to the making-of featurette include two minimalist micro-budget shorts “Cahuenga Blvd” and “Five Miles Out” plus a trailer and some video Haigh shot on-set, auditions of the leads, and Haigh on sex scenes.

© 23 February 2013, Stephen O. Murray

About The Author

Stephen O. Murray grew up in rural southern Minnesota, earned a B.A. from James Madison College (within Michigan State University), an M.A. from the University of Arizona, a Ph.D. from the University of Toronto (both in sociology), and was a postdoctoral fellow at Berkeley (in anthropology). He is the author of American Gay, Homosexualities, etc. and lives in San Francisco.