Russell (Tom Cullen) and Glen (Chris New), who were strangers until late the night before, wake up in Russell’s apartment to the weirdness you’d expect the morning after a drunken hookup with someone you met at a club. You can feel their nervousness about morning breath — at least on the part of Russell, the more awkward and stoic of the two. Fortunately, Glen’s more comfortable. Aggressively so, if that’s possible. He pulls out a voice recorder and asks Russell to attempt to reconstruct the night before. What was the sequence of events? When did Russell’s shirt come off? What did he think of Glen’s cock?
Director Andrew Haigh never shows us their hookup. Instead, he inserts a big ellipsis between Russell’s solo excursion to a cheesy gay club on the way home from hanging out with his friends the night before and his waking up with a hangover in the morning. But Glen’s choice of questions (and occasional answers) and Russell’s reservedly sincere replies likely construct a more psychologically complex portrait of a drunken fuck than even Haigh’s crisp, understated imagery could. Which makes sense: Glen’s a budding artist, and this recording (and others like it) will culminate, he hopes, in a multimedia exhibition that attempts to realistically represent gay sexual experiences. Why? Because nobody, Glen says, at least no straight people, wants to look at sex between two men.
The debriefing dissipates the pair’s awkwardness more effectively than a tooth brushing does morning breath, and for the first time onscreen, Glen and Russell kiss, in that way where the approach seems at least as meaningful as the contact itself. During the press screening I attended, as soon as their lips locked, the guy sitting next to me suddenly jumped up and ran out of the theater like it was on fire. But however tragicomic it is that a film critic in West Hollywood would be scared of two men kissing in 2011, it’s misleading to say it illustrates Glen’s point. The budding artist wasn’t talking about people who a film like Weekend would upset, but rather those who, yeah, cool, whatever, wouldn’t mind checking it out, I guess. His progressive, accepting, straight fellow Englanders wish gays all the best, but they’re probably not too actively curious about what that best — or its opposite — means for their gay friends, if they have any.
It’s tempting to read Glen’s complaint as oblique finger pointing, to wonder if he’s implicating or absolving us as we’re watching. But Haigh isn’t going metasexual on us. Glen’s circle of friends is, we discover, largely gay, but Russell’s is so straight they’re as square as the houses they live in with their spouses and kids. He doesn’t talk about sex or love with any of them and struggles to tell even his best friend about Glen (spoiler: Glen and Russell end up really, really liking each other) and almost doesn’t. But when he does, it turns out his straight BFF is nearly more comfortable talking about love than Russell is, just exasperated that it took his friend so long to open up.
There’s a lot of opening up in Weekend, a romance that occurs in its entirety over the time span of its title, like a less idealized and thankfully unchaste (the two go together like courtly love and a chastity belt) version of Linklater’s Before Sunrise, with the same countdown to separation intensifying its protagonists’ interactions. Mostly, those interactions are verbal: while they walk home from Russell’s work (he’s a lifeguard), make tea in his kitchen, head out to a bar to meet Glen’s friends, and snort lines of coke late into the night in Russell’s living room. They also spend some more time fucking, which, like their verbal intercourse, is hot for both its playfulness and, more importantly, its emotional explicitness (thanks, in part, to Cullen and New’s impressive chemistry).
Linklater’s couple had the luxury of considering platonic love abstractly, but for Haigh’s pair, sexual identity melds metaphysical with the experiential, and all the grime that concreteness brings. Maybe that’s part of the reason — their injuries are so well-defined — why the pair, and Russell especially, feels so real. But Haigh makes it clear just because his characters are intricately fleshed out, doesn’t mean they’re fully formed. As the two tell each other about their experiences, they’re figuring themselves out, too. Glen’s project, it turns out, isn’t only for the people who don’t want to see it.