The vast majority of the reviews I read before seeing Weekend went out of their way to say that “It’s not a gay movie, it really isn’t.” Not a gay movie? Arse! Arse sex, hand jobs, blow jobs and the bisky residue left by all of the above actions to that. This film is, without any doubt, completely gay and if there isn’t, as Jerry would say, anything wrong with that then why deny it? This is a question that the film itself poses, one of its main characters wondering whether or not straight people will ever go and see ‘gay art’ . He assumes that they will not, that the audience for it consists solely of horny homosexuals perving for a flash of penis; that very same possibility being what scares the rest of us away. Those reviewers obviously agree that an utter lack of empathy is simply symptomatic of being straight; they paint phrases like the previous, saying that this isn’t a gay story, it’s just a human one as if the two were somehow antithetical. Prove them both wrong, keep reading and see if the film sounds suitable for you regardless of its sexual preferences.
For those who all but signed off at the mention of Anal sex know this, I am for the most part a homophobe and I was never not comfortable during the film (though it does get semi-graphic at times these scenes are no worse than your average art-house movie). Now, before you start penning a profanity packed comment know that I use the term literally, unlike most these days; I do not ‘hate’ homosexuals, rather I ‘fear’ them. Sodomy sounds horrible to me, so does sucking someone off, but so long as i’m not involved I don’t much care whether or not other people do it. So sure I still don’t enjoy either hearing about or seeing said sex acts, but then that’s just as true of two straight people as the film itself points out. So if you have handled guy on girl sex scenes in the past then these ones shouldn’t cause any extra squeem and nor should the men enacting them. This is essentially what those reviewers meant to say, they just chose an unfourtunate way of expressing it.
The characters of Weekend though are not neutered so as to be palatable to us straight viewers as so many others in the media are (See: Modern Family), they’re just good and very relatable people and so spending time with them is as pleasurable as finger-play, which is good because we spend a lot of time with them over the course of the film, a weekend to be specific. The story and structure of the film will be familiar to anyone who has seen Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise and/or Before Sunset: two people meet by chance in a European city and spend the limited amount of time they have left there chatting, discussing, ruminating, arguing, pondering, prodding, joking and eventually fucking. The only difference here is that the Julie Delpy character is also played by a man and so a lot of that lots and lots of talking has to do with homosexuality.
Thankfully then the film is wonderfully written, so when the two men just sit and speak the film is still almost always as engrossing as any action epic. The key cause of this is the fact that even though they between them represent all of the dramatically potent homosexual persona’s these two men are not simply cyphers but fully-formed flesh and blood characters, rounded down to the hair in their pits, and because we know something about them we want to know more and the script successfully teases out these traits and stories, keeping us hooked. As always the other key factor is dialogue and here Haigh is also very succesful; their words strike that necessary balance between being believable from the mouth of a human being but also meaningful enough to justify filming. If you were told that this was a documentary then you’d almost believe it but wonder how they managed to be there for the one weekend of note.
Such a belief would only be compounded by the way in which Haigh has shot the film; though the picturesque shots are always in pristine focus the characters aren’t, the heads and extremities of extras flash by the lens and block our view of the men as they go about their lives on the very ordinary streets of Anywhere, UK. This authenticity actually adds so much to their actions, placing them particularly within our world and thus making the protagonists problems our own and not just something to be discarded along with the fate of Middle-Earth. Don’t worry if you’re a photography purist though, because despite this approach the shots are all meticulously framed : when the lead bathes himself, for example, we see his body in a naturalistic, non-posed manner but there is still only a flash of penis.
This is not a moment of hypocrisy nor one of titless titillation, no, it’s a wink to the aforementioned argument; because in direct contrast to its aesthetic the films content is very often meta in nature. Glenn, the aggressor of the pari, is an artist and his current project runs parallel to the film itself; he is documenting the denouement of his Friday-night flings and Haigh uses this development to constantly comment on how we will be receiving his film and in extension how homo-sexuality as a whole is treated in the medias. They are after all both our generations ‘Other’ and the ‘contemporary perspective’ currently in vogue and the divide between those two is an inherently fascinating one. This one-for-many structure of metaphor also applies to the two leads as they are similarly representative of ‘their kind’, though the film itself also dismisses the idea of any such blanket notion.
The scenes where the film is functioning fully on all these different levels (Social, Sociological, Self-Reflexive and Scathing) are amazing but too often towards the end it falls into the trap of dialouge-driven message movies and favours the political – though it does this with some of its tounge in cheek – and starts to seem as if it is preaching its messages to us. That the message is both a positive and necessary one works somewhat to redeem this fact but doesn’t forgive it entire; to me this is such a mistake more because it is a simple waste of potential than because of any ideological reasons. Where Weekend works best at enlightening is during its diminutive moments of common human insecurities and not in its long gushes of grandiloquence.
Getting to live a day or three in the life of a homo-sexual man is an inherently interesting premise and one that should on its own convey every possible pro-gay message that Haigh could want to say. We experience the abuse and the shame attached when it happens to the leads and in a series of subtle scenes, having the two say it all out aloud only undercuts this. There are then some facets of the film that are not over-explored and maybe should have been; there is a very clever sequence of intercut conversations that uses our knowledge of film to make us fear a hate-fuelled beating that simply never eventuates, but dramatically maybe should have. The flaw in the film essentially boils down to this: show and don’t tell. It’s a 101 maxim yes, but its scripture for a reason and shouldn’t be subverted, no matter how good you think your writing is, thankfully though Haigh’s is very good and so the mistake is made manageable.
So Weekend then is like its leads, both very good and very relatable regardless of their personal preferences; you’ll enjoy spending time with these interesting people. And yes those critics were right when they said that this is a human story; you’ll find yourself caring for the pair by the time Sunday morning comes down. But if that were all then it would ultimately be a lot less remarkable a movie than it actually is; being gay isn’t something that the film, nor its characters, should be ashamed of. Yes it makes them different but isn’t that a good thing? Isn’t being special the underlying dream – some may say delusion – of western culture? In the case of Weekend the answer is yes, being a gay movie is what makes it distinct even though its not what makes it good. So see it or don’t based on your taste in film rather than your taste in sex.