I've shied from appreciating film and television as serious art forms lately in favor of using both mediums as a means of straight-up escapism. Life, man... sometimes you get enough of an emotional roller coaster as is. At any rate, last night I felt up to the challenge of sitting down and digesting a movie that had potential to be quite heavy, and I'm so glad I took the risk. I've waited for the 2011 British indie flick Weekend's DVD release for several months now, seeing as I missed it in theaters due to my dating a guy who simply had no interest in artsy excess. Lo and behold, Weekend is actually now available on Netflix instant and has no set date for a home release, so I'm glad I caught it while I can.
I should say now I'm a sap for most movies featuring gay protagonists (always more than one lead character in gay films). Brokeback, Milk, My Own Private Idaho, Mysterious Skin... each hooked me in a way most films don't, probably for so shallow a reason as that I'm actually able to identify with the relationships unfolding onscreen, whereas with most mainstream movies I'm really not all that able to connect emotionally to a straight man staring wistfully at an equally straight woman. I know what I'm supposed to feel is between them, but it doesn't bowl me over head-on, plus 99.98% of the time it's going to work out in the end for the happy straight couple, so yay. Mystery solved.
Weekend was written/directed by the up-and-coming Andrew Haigh and stars Tom Cullen and Chris New as the most appealing two guys I've had the pleasure of getting to stare at for 97 straight (ha!) minutes. I have a lot I want to say about this one, but I think what I'd like to focus on in particular are two of the quieter moments I noticed that will likely resonate more deeply with gay audiences than straight ones. The first is situated very early on: Russell - a quiet, amicable, and emotionally lost twenty-something - leaves early from his best friend's dinner party with the excuse that he's tired. The next several shots establish his solitary journey home, and it was during this sequence that I knew how honest the film was going to play out. Because Russell doesn't end up at home, but instead soon sits alone at a gay bar, drinking and staring and eventually trying to check someone out in a bathroom.
What's so telling is that he actually *chooses* this isolation over the fine time he was having at the dinner party. His motives are the same as mine whenever I make an excuse, leave early to go home, and end up somewhere completely off the radar: I'm used to operating this way, and I do it every time with the hope that something more might come from abandoning my straight friends in the straight world and running off into the night. He's lonely, repressed, and wants connection... even if it is just drinking and staring. This same sequence is likely viewed by a heterosexual audience (and I can make an educated guess at this because I actually did watch the movie with two straight girls) as: guy leaves dinner party, guy changes mind about going home, guy ends up at gay bar. What's lost in translation is the knowledge that this action wasn't an impulsive decision on Russell's part, but a routine aspect of his life that takes place beyond a veil of white lies serving to keep his straight persona separate from his (potentially viewed as) seedier nighttime tendencies. And that very distancing is what fuels the loneliness, the repression, and the shame. Russell's not closeted, he just believes that in order to remain an upstanding member of Britain's contemporary heterosexual culture, he needs to fit in with the straights.
The second small moment takes place much later, and again focuses on Russell. He's sitting at his goddaughter's birthday party, surrounded by good friends and happy children, and his face is completely detached from the situation. He's there, but he's not. It's not as though he's not paying attention - he smiles and actively participates - but his eyes continue to stare, vacant, and the camera lingers at such a distance that the audience can actually feel the level of detachment Russell is experiencing. A straight viewer might interpret his stoicism as a pronounced anxiety over the departure of the man he's spent this titular weekend with , and to an extent they're right. What's more, though, is that Russell's opened himself up enough to his emotions to realize that the world he's currently sitting in (read: one populated by straight adults with their own children having a ritualistic birthday party) is one he'll never, ever get to legitimately be a part of. His gaze is vacant because mentally he *cannot* truly connect to the situation around him. There's just no common undercurrent of understanding: these people will *never* know what it is to feign tiredness as an excuse to slip off to a bar populated by their own kind in an attempt to feel a true social connection, just as he will *never* know what it feels like to birth a child into a heterosexual culture and participate in all events and rites of passage therein. He is destined to be an outsider in this world, unable to connect because he simply does not have the common wiring necessary. Russell's two days with Glen have enlightened him to the extent that his routine unease in birthday party-type situations is finally making sense. And let me tell you, that's a crushing realization to reach.
Otherwise, the cinematography is naturalistic to the extreme, the dialogue is real without ever once teetering into a severely boring moment, and the audience is treated to some fantastic nudity. What's more, if Weekend's objective was to tell a story as truthfully as possible in an effort to foster a connection between itself and an isolated viewership, it succeeded admirably. I felt good after the film was over, mostly because I knew other guys were going to watch it and connect, and that very connection proves none of us is so alone in our thoughts as we might think. Russell and Glen part ways with a sense that life is for the living, and you've got to embrace who you are before you can take an honest shot at making the most of it. I'll definitely be re-watching this one... a good three or four times.