I always appreciate when a big label like Criterion courts smaller noteworthy offerings that might not ordinarily receive a big distribution. Taking on Andrew Haigh's "Weekend" is certainly one of their more interesting offerings. Some might consider it a niche choice with its homosexual themes and same sex coupling, but "Weekend" has a lot to say about how people (of any gender or orientation) connect or don't connect in the modern world. It is a small film, to be sure, that is graced with both a minimalism and a naturalism that might remind you of Mike Leigh's most organic projects. The narrative takes place over the course of one weekend largely within the confines of an apartment. It is a piece that is bolstered by a thoughtful screenplay and two great performances. If you're looking for a big story, this micro-budgeted indie is NOT the picture for you. But if you enjoy realistic dialogue about the human condition, about life, about love and relationships--there is plenty to be admired here.
Basically, "Weekend" is structured as a brief encounter, a fleeting moment. A relationship in microcosm is played out over a couple of days. The film is completely understated and its quiet effectiveness might sneak up on you. It's a typical enough story, I suppose. Russell (Tom Cullen) heads out to a club looking for some action and as the evening comes to a close, he ends up going home with Glen (Chris New). Neither is under the illusion that this is anything other than a hook-up. In fact, it doesn't appear that the two men share much common ground. What follows is an encounter fueled by drinking, drugs, and sex. But unexpectedly, they also let down their guards and really start to connect. In many ways, "Weekend" is about that moment where two people fall in love. It's not a big or dramatic moment, but a subtle shift of how you view someone else--how you seem to fit. While the film does touch on some issues specific to the homosexual community, its underlying themes are much more universal than you might imagine.
The film played very well on the festival circuit, even picking up two British Independent Film Awards, one for Best Achievement In Production and one for Most Promising Newcomer Tom Cullen. Cullen is quite exceptional. His Russell is more aloof, more introspective, but as he starts to share more of himself--the openness and vulnerability are etched across his face. Chris New is believable and outspoken, cynical and frank, but with a need to connect maybe he doesn't even fully understand. If the thought of two men having sex or sharing intimacy bothers you, this might not be your first choice. But both actors really make this work, giving of themselves both physically and emotionally. In the end, it's bittersweet, real, natural, and unassuming. What it achieves, it does so quietly, unexpectedly and with surprising subtlety. Perhaps this tiny little movie is not for everyone, but for those that appreciate realistic adult drama--this is a weekend trip worth taking. About 4 1/2 stars. KGHarris, 5/12.
The Director approved Hi-Def Criterion Disc extras:
Interviews with the director, producer, and principle cast.
Interview with Haigh on the film's sex scenes
On-set video footage shot by New and others
Cullen and New audition footage
Video essay on the film's set photographers
Two short films by Haigh: Cahuenga Blvd from 2003 and Five Miles Out from 2009
Criterion booklet essay from film critic Daniel Lim