Written & Directed by Andrew Haigh
Russell lives in a small apartment in Nottingham, England keeping to himself and occasionally venturing out into the suburbs to visit his lifelong friend Jamie. One Friday night, on his way home from a house party at Jamie’s, Russell makes a stop at a gay club to see if there are any men he’s interested in hooking up with. He brings Glen home and begins a weekend that will quietly reshape his life and his feelings about his sexuality. Glen is very militant about being gay, studying to be an artist and wanting to make confrontational work about gay experiences, particularly surrounding sex. Russell is fully confident that he is gay but still uncomfortable being gay in a public sphere. His friend Jamie is supportive, but something else is holding Russell back. Over the course of Saturday and Sunday, Russell and Glen talk, argue and have sex all while challenging the other about their ideas. By the end of this weekend, neither man will be the same.
My first encounter with Andrew Haigh’s work came by watching Lean on Pete, an A24 film released last year. It’s a movie that has grown on me the longer I sit and think about it, the way it handled heavy subject matter with nuance and a deft hand stand out to me. Weekend is a similar film experience, very dialogue heavy but also softly contemplative when it needs to be. It’s clear Haigh wants to say some things about gay representation in media, but he doesn’t want his film to devolve into a lecture. Haigh also understands his views put him in a gray area, existing between Glen and Russell. It’s this honesty from the filmmaker and how unafraid he is to tell this love story that propels Weekend into a higher tier of cinema.
Russell is an interesting contradiction of a character, but in an intentional way that furthers his complexity as a real person. He seeks out flings with men, writing down abstracts about them in a document on his computer, focusing on their status among their friends and family. Russell is a product of the foster care system, where he met his mate Jamie, a system he aged out of without ever being adopted. Russell is interested in the experience of gay men coming out to their parents, an experience he will never have and which becomes a core piece of his relationship with Glen. Russell argues in favor of gay marriage, something Glen sees as a conceit to straight people, with the former man reasons that it is incredibly brave for two men or women to stand before the public and declare that deep of a devotion.
During their talks, we learn about Glen’s ex-boyfriend John, a man who cheated on Glen for the entirety of their relationship. Glen states that he was never mad about the cheating just that he was being lied to. Later, we discover that John got jumped in a park while looking for anonymous sex. It’s never clear the extent of John’s injuries just that it has affected Glen in ways he is unwilling to open up about. There’s also an implication that part of Glen’s militancy was partially born out of seeing John so broken and weak; Glen has promised himself to be louder about his sexuality in response to the violence.
Weekend vibrates with the tactile feel of early love, the early morning headache after a night of drinking, the haze of a tryst half-remembered. You can feel that nervous emotion the morning after, the tightrope of how intimate we should be after our night together. Russell brushes his teeth before making coffee and bringing it to Glen whom he left sleeping in bed. There’s the exchange of numbers, the questioning of whether we will see each other again. Then that moment where the unnameable truth of love has born fruit and the immediate fear to rush away from its intensity. Haigh masterfully captures the pain of goodbye when the circumstances of life draw you apart from a person, the person you know you need to be with. He smartly drowns out Russell’s words with the sound of a train so that we only see their arms clutching each other tighter, see them kiss in the hope that it will tether them across oceans until they meet again.