Romance, so I’m to understand the term (and I don’t), is predicated on petite, strategic lies. It’s the confluence of many different slightly altered postures and highly self-moderated presentations, all calculated to either aid or discourage further amorous fission. That means that the person one falls in love with isn’t necessarily the person one has fallen in love with, and vice versa. But we know this all too well, otherwise we wouldn’t expect something different and exciting from our fictions, both real and imagined. The quintessential tenet of romantic movies is that they feature characters who are either kept apart by their own deceptions or brought together by their total, yielding allowance of casting aside all that bullshit and opening up to another kindred soul. We eat that up, all the more voraciously for knowing it isn’t so simple. And so when it comes to real life, we spend as much time constructing the barriers as we do peering around them to see who’s on the other side, and we wonder why everyone else is doing the same thing.
If this seems especially true in gay relationships, and I’m not saying it actually is, then it’s a mark of progress that the otherwise wholly naturalistic British drama Weekend chooses to embrace the fiction, especially given just how many other beacons of gay cinema opt to convey truth vis-à-vis the sorts of things we’ve been force-fed to accept as our reality (i.e. the pain of oppression, the tragedy of AIDS, the shallow escapism of candied softcore fantasies). Writer-director Andrew Haigh’s sensitive, unfailingly aware feature isn’t a fearless repudiation of the “meet cute” archetype, but rather a bold, specific revision: “meet right.”
Russell (Tom Cullen) is a silent bro, cast fairly adrift from his own sexuality in what seems an attempt to fit in among his almost exclusively straight circle of friends. But he’s still self-assured enough to hit up the corner gay bar without a wingman—provided he’s taken enough shots and hits beforehand to loosen up his wandering eye. Pissed just enough, he cruises a compact, cute young man, makes out with another with whom he lingered around just long enough in the bathroom, and then wakes up the next morning in bed with the original conquest. Though Russell says he has to get ready for work, Glen (Chris New) invites him back into bed for coffee and pillow talk. An artist collecting stories from his sexual partners, Glen proffers a mini-cassette recorder and asks Russell to reconstruct the evening from whatever he can remember.
Weekend uses this device to chart what eventually blossoms into an entire weekend’s worth of push-pull surrounding their mutual attraction, in and out of bed, back and forth with revelation and evasion. But, this being fiction, it’s mostly revelation. The conversation Glen records that first morning in bed reflects mostly the sort of superficial candor that would be expected to emerge from a one-night stand. Russell, when asked what he noticed about Glen, lists a few things but seems most confident on the point that he really liked the shirt he was wearing. Glen—who, as it turns out, has quite a few great shirts in his wardrobe—muses that he was pleased with the size of Russell’s cock, and wonders aloud if Russell wasn’t satisfied by the size of his own. The only thing that interrupts their post-coital postmortem is Glen’s spontaneous decision to loudly castigate a group of hoods, who in turn shout “queer” up at him.
The conversation appears to have all the hallmarks of research both can file away for their next one-nighter, but Glen’s deck outburst gives it away. He’s intending to get Russell to emerge from his shell. And emerge he does, being the first of the two to text back for more time together. From there, Weekend’s lovers connect again and again, physically, emotionally, intellectually. They invariably swim with the current of the whirlpool, and are carried closer and closer to that holy grail of total, mutual understanding. It causes Russell to tell Glen that he’s an orphan. It causes Glen to inform Russell that he’s actually leaving for America at the end of the weekend, where he’ll be for at least two years—though given his seeming dissatisfaction with how gays are treated on his home turf, a permanent extension seems inevitable.
The longer you spend inside Weekend, the more its fictions seem apparent. Cullen and New are, of course, incredibly attractive people who, despite their characters’ hang-ups and foibles, are approachable and easy to watch. There’s something a little too convenient about how Russell’s sexual introversion is countered by his cool self-assuredness, just as Glen’s infallible sexual militancy eventually reveals itself as a coping mechanism for his dissatisfaction over his social station. And, not unlike Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, a ticking stopwatch hangs over Weekend that amplifies the intensity of every conversation, every fight, every drink, every copulation. In other words, it’s a device.
But Haigh’s screenplay isn’t just perceptive to these fictions, it shows how they function in reality, narrowing the gap between the movie’s idealized representation and its audience’s own capacity to do the same. Early on, Glen explains his cassette fuck-diary project, addressing that very gap between “who you want to be and who you really are. And in that gap, it shows you what’s stopping you becoming who you want to be.” It’s nearly as galvanizing as the moment Russell finally opens up enough to admit to Glen that, up until now at least, he’s only felt comfortable being a gay man so long as he was alone. It’s in moments like these that Weekend nudges fantasy just a little bit closer to reality.