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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on Movies: Weekend


Weekend (Three Stars)

U.K..: Andrew Haigh, 2011

Weekend, a sometimes remarkable low-budget British movie about a pickup in a Nottingham disco bar and its aftermath, starts out as a movie frankly about sex and one (or two) night stands, and winds up being closer to a classic love story.

I haven’t mentioned that the disco is a gay bar and that the lovers are both males: an introverted lifeguard named Russell (Tom Cullen) and an argumentative artist named Glen (Chris New). But, in a way, that’s because this movie is not the usual “niche” film, and sex or sexual orientation is not that relevant to its quality, or its appeal. Weekend (not to be confused with the French film classic by Jean-Luc Godard) doesn’t, as you might expect it would, proselytize about gay politics or sentimentalize about gay relationships. (It leaves those attitudes to its two main characters.) Instead, it shows us what these two guys do and say over the course of a weekend together, and it does so with such honesty and insight that at the end, we feel that it’s drawn us a real experience, painted us a real milieu, and shown us real people — if only for the film’s running time.

The movie — which was written, directed and edited by Andrew Haigh (only his second feature) — takes place in Nottingham, a working class English city that here looks depressingly drab and ordinary, the kind of factory-shadowed place that might well breed one night stands and long morning afters. We first see Russell at a lively party with his talkative friends. Then we follow him to an awful disco playing empty, barren-sounding music — synthetic-sounding repetitious dum-dum-dum techno-dance stuff with a jackhammer beat and no lyrics. (’60 kids of whatever persuasion had much better sound tracks.) Somehow, Russell winds up with Glen — who admits later he was after someone else who rejected him — and the two wind up in bed, doing things we don’t see, but which Glen insists on recalling into a tape recorder the next morning. Russell is reticent and embarrassed; Glen is a bit of a showoff and know-it-all.

Then they start talking. And that‘s what this movie —  somewhat like Richard Linklater’s two wonderful walk-and-talk Ethan HawkeJulie Delpy romances Before Sunrise and Before Sunset — is mostly about: two people talking and talking, communicating both verbally and sub-verbally, and falling in love as they do.

Russell and Glen have a physical similarity. Though Russell is tall and athletic, and Glen is shorter and wiry, both have neatly-trimmed beards and short hair. But, temperamentally, the two are very different, which is probably part of the reason they’re so instantaneously attracted to each other. Russell is a liberal-minded guy who moves easily through both the gay and straight worlds; Glen lives in a predominantly “queer” community, and his social attitudes are radical, aggressive and even hostile. Russell, who works as a lifeguard at a local gym, is still closeted at his job (but not among his straight friends). Glen is loudly and defiantly “out.“ Russell is unfailingly nice and helpful. Glen is kind of a pain in the ass. Russell has roots; Glen is deliberately rootless, promiscuous, a loner, and, as we eventually see, maybe ultimately unavailable. If you met Russell for the first time, in almost any social context, you’d probably like him. If you met Glen, you probably wouldn’t — unless you shared his politics or he made you laugh. And he‘s not all that funny.

Why do they fall in love? It makes sense while you watch the movie, mostly because the dialogue is so realistic and sharp, the tone so knowing, and the actors are so good.

There is some sex, or the suggestion of sex in Weekend. (Not a lot, but enough to earn it a No Rating release.) And there’s certainly a lot of smutty, gamey, four-letter talk, especially from smart-ass motor mouth Glen, enough to permanently estrange this film from many conservative types. But what’s good about the picture is something more old-fashioned: its well-observed psychology, that sharp, spontaneous-sounding dialogue and the movie’s feeling for its two main characters — who, much of the time, are the only people we see or hear.

Haigh, who’s made one other feature and some shorts, has worked mostly as an assistant editor on films like Ridley Scott‘s Gladiator, Black Hawk Down and Kingdom of Earth, and he structures and paces the film as a good editor (or a great editor like David Lean), would. In a way, Weekend is a kind of Brief Encounter for a post-gay liberation England. (It’s not anywhere near as good as Brief Encounter — an all-time classic whose original writer, Noel Coward, was famously gay and whose director/co-writer, Lean, was famously straight.) But it’s also the latest example of the sometimes brilliant British cinematic tradition that produced socially conscious film geniuses like Ken Loach and Mike Leigh: the semi-documentary-style realistic drama, with its unbuttoned candor and sometimes improvised (or improvised-sounding) dialogue, and its visual style of handheld camera and long takes.


The climax of Weekend, by contrast, is almost pleasingly old-fashioned. It takes place in a train station, like much of Brief Encounter and more traditional movie romances than we can mention. And there’s something reassuring, in our world of quick hookups, of people who have sex before they really know someone, about that link to the romantic movie past. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose, as Francois Truffaut might say.


Hard-core red-staters aside, if you’re reasonably liberal about things, especially sexual things (and bad language), you should enjoy this film no matter what your persuasion, as long as you like good movies. It’s also heartening that Haigh’s film also shows us again, how little you really need, at least financially, to make a really good movie. Enough money to get it done, a good script, fine actors, a good filmmaker and a crack crew. Do it right and keep it honest and it’ll work. It’s the people that count.

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2 Responses to “Wilmington on Movies: Weekend”

  1. samguy says:

    Saw this at Outfest where the audience, as you can imagine loved it. One thing that you didn’t mention: the gorgeous texture of the digital photogrpahy. The blacks and whites are so vivid!

  2. Sally says:

    I agree re: the money/funding question — talent overcomes budgetary limits. Will put this on my list to see.


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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon