Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Film Review: Weekend

This review can also be found at The Yorker.

The majority of my experience with romance-type movies has been rooted firmly in the sappy, feel-good realm. And I can't goddamn stand them. Boy meets girl in a chance encounter - potentially a rather strange one; their stark personality differences make it seem like they're never going to make a deeper connection; they argue, but in the end see how badly they need each other and get together again in a sequence scientifically tested to produce the largest "Awwww" from its audience.
Weekend does check all those boxes, but at the same time it throws all those boxes out of the window, and calls you stupid for bringing up such a formulaic romance plot. Weekend tries to offer something much more real and bittersweet; and starts off by centering the entire thing around a gay romance. Which, for me, definitely puts it in 'real and bittersweet' territory, but more on that later.

Russell (Tom Cullen) is stuck in emotional limbo. While he's incredibly close to his friends, he's also really closed-off when it comes to talking about himself. On a whim he visits a gay bar, meets Glen (Chris New), and ends up having hazy, drunken sex. All he knows is that Glen is an artist, outgoing and agressively open with his sexuality; and over the period of a weekend, they find that meeting each other has become one of the best and one of the worst things that has happened to them.

This is where the Realness Factor comes in. Everything from the setting to the key events of the narrative are subdued and coated in that thick, matte grey that covers England's inner-city urban living. It feels so familiar - I understand and recognise the motorways, the glum rides on public transport, and the shitty and cramped nightclubs. However, that's not to say that Weekend entirely forgoes more traditional film techniques, or is entirely moody and grim. The tone switches from melancholic to funny to sexy (I'm way too prudish to talk about the sex scenes in any real detail but it manages to be both steamy and tasteful with little effort) at a regular rate without stumbling in pacing.

However, Weekend is a movie with a message - and a rather self-defeating one at that. Glen's openness about his sexuality is augmented with intense ire for a society that's so heterocentric and prudish, which Russell occasionally gets the brunt of. This means that every so often Glen will have a rant about his favourite topic, and the scene stops just short of flashing "HERE'S THE MORAL" on-screen. That's not to say that message imparted is wrong, quite the opposite (if asked I would wholeheartedly rave about how social stigma gives LGBT issues the short end of the stick), but no one likes being beaten over the head with a message - even if making it that obvious could be argued as necessary.

Building on this idea, at one point Glen discusses an art installation he's planning regarding gay sexual experiences, but admits that (and forgive me for not having the exact quote) gay people wouldn't go without the promise of nudity, and straight people wouldn't go because homosexuality is still considered a weird and taboo topic for many. You could hear a number of nervous laughs in the audience at that line.

That theme struck a personal chord with me - while inwardly I could agree with most of Glen's viewpoint, on every other level I embody Russell's emotionally-distant awkwardness. It made the romance between the two leads - the small silences, the confiding of secrets, the holding of hands - both heart-wrenchingly cute and depressingly unobtainable. The film's resolution, while not dancing to the rhythm of how a prototypical romance should go, instead sticks closely to the conclusion the general tone of the film implies.

While most first think of Brokeback Mountain as the must-see film with gay themes, for me Weekend is set to have much more social significance. That said, I am still waiting for a film where a homosexual protagonist doesn't have his (or her) own sexuality as the main conflict.

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