For homosexuals there’s the epistemology of the closet, familiar as early as grade school lusts; and the epistemology of socializing, the impact of which hits them as they realize that even more uncomfortable than attending baptisms, children’s birthday parties, and Thanksgiving is the ritual of enduring their straight friends at their most solicitous. Andrew Haigh’s Weekend is most touching when Russell (Tom Cullen), a lifeguard at a public pool, smiles hollowly in an early scene in which he mingles at one of those parties; he doesn’t know the language of heterosexual discourse, so reduced to communicating via the semaphore of love and habit he turns himself into a ghost. The unease becomes more acute when his best mate, an amiable sort who looks Russell straight in the eye and genuinely loves him, tries to coax a romantic confession out of him. Russell has never told him about the tricks he’s picked up, and the shared history of these two men suddenly looks like ash.
The second 2011 film I’ve seen in a week in which the Walk and Talk or the Walk and Fuck has served as plot engine, Weekend is indebted to not just Before Sunrise and Before Sunset but The Clock, Vincent Minnelli’s music box comedy in which Robert Walker and an impossibly avid Judy Garland spend forty-eight hours enacting the arc of a love affair, with Manhattan and its citizens as setting and supporting cast. Bored after that get-together, Russell hits a gay club, gets very drunk very quickly, tries and fails to land one trick, and picks up another. When the scene dissolves we see Russell and the first trick, Glen, (Chris New), next morning in bed next to him. Glen has art school pretensions: within minutes of awakening he’s shoved a tape recorder in Russell’s face to get an aural record of what it was like to pick him up — a conceit I’m not sure I accept. He’s interested, he reveals later, in the gap between “who we really are” and “who we want to be”; the act of reconstructing the story into a narrative will show the difference.
The star of Weekend is Haigh’s lighting. A park behind an apartment building at dusk has rarely looked so desolate, especially after you’ve spent an afternoon smoking weed and making out with a trick. As a former editor Haigh knows how long to let a scene linger; each moment when a lonely Russell hangs out in his flat in undies and a wrinkled T-shirt resonates like Catherine Denueve in Repulsion. The other find is Chris New, who as Glen is the cleverer of the pair and to my ears is slumming by hanging out with the likes of the too-wet-by-half Russell. If Weekend has a leitmotif, it’s depicting how a generation of homosexuals accepted by quasi-families of straight friends have it a lot better than their predecessors yet want to enjoy the qualities that set them apart from these same friends. The film suggests — quietly — that these things are irreconcilable. New has the burden of voicing the didactic moments (mitigated somewhat by the impressive cocaine and marijuana use herein) but it’s to Haigh’s credit that he doesn’t mock his character’s political engagement as just a pick-up routine, just a line of Glen’s — which it is and it isn’t. The way in which Weekend uses concision to wring the most emotional impact of ambiguity is its greatest trait, enough to forgive its too poignant ending.