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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Review: Weekend (2011)

* * * 1/2

Director: Andrew Haigh
Starring: Tom Cullen, Chris New

They meet, they have an encounter, they part ways, and then... Andrew Haigh’s Weekend is a romantic drama about a relationship that becomes as deep as it is fleeting, unfolding entirely over the course of a single weekend. Made on a tight budget, the film is rather spare but it absolutely makes the most of what it has by putting the emphasis on its two main characters, letting their respective actors turn in great, nuanced performances. Weekend may be a little too slow moving for some, but if you have the patience for great character drama, then this is a film you won’t want to miss.

Weekend begins with Russell (Tom Cullen) who, despite a close circle of friends, feels lonely and somewhat alienated as the only gay man in the group. After ducking out of a friend’s party, he goes alone to a gay club, struggles to make a connection, but ends up going home with Glen (Chris New), an aspiring artist. In the morning, after Glen has talked Russell into making a contribution to an art project he’s been working on, they go their separate ways but Russell, still feeling lonely and isolated, calls him up later and they meet again and end up spending the day together. During the course of their conversations they forge a connection, bonding over their past experiences, but then the booms drops: Glen reveals that the next day he’s leaving for Oregon and that he’ll be gone for two years attending art school.

Russell is upset by Glen’s revelation, having opened up to him in a way that he hadn’t ever opened up to anyone previously, but decides to see things through by going to Glen’s going away party, where he meets Glen’s friends and learns why Glen is so averse to the idea of being in a relationship. Russell and Glen end up skipping out on the party, going first to an amusement park and then back to Russell’s apartment where they do more talking, discover that they have an awkward connection in their past, and get into a fight over their differing views about the value of relationships. When morning comes around, there are only a few hours left until Glen leaves for the States, and a limited amount of time for Russell and Glen to decide what, if anything, to do about what’s developed between them.

Weekend is a film in the tradition of Before Sunrise and Sunset, a simple, unfussy story about two people (mostly) just talking, getting to know each other, and sharing their deepest – and sometimes their shallowest – thoughts. Russell and Glen are interesting characters whose disparate experiences keep their conversations on a sometimes sharp edge and keep the story moving along in an engaging, and often fascinating, way. Although they continue to grow closer and more bonded over the course of their weekend together, there are also several points where it seems like they could make an immediate break. Although it’s a film in the “romantic” genre, it plays against the notion that its two protagonists necessarily belong together, consistently showing that even if Russell and Glen find a way to keep seeing each other, there would be some very definite conflicts of personality between them. Despite its premise, the film is really much too direct to really be considered a romanticized story about a relationship.

As Russell and Glen, Cullen and New deliver very natural, lived-in performances. Russell is a deeply vulnerable character, one who has felt left out for essentially his entire life and who has experienced an overabundance of transitory relationships, having grown up in government care. He longs for something permanent and a feeling of belonging and wears his heart a little too much on his sleeve. Glen, meanwhile, has been so burned by past experiences that he’s reluctant to get close or attached to anyone. They have a lot in common, however, discovering more common ground the more they talk, which is why they keep drifting back to each other even when things start to seem completely impossible. Cullen and New meet each other note for note throughout the film, creating an intricate and complex relationship between their characters that is both moving and believable. Although Weekend is about a relationship that stops almost as soon as it starts, it’s a film with lasting power.

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