Monday, June 18, 2012

Boy Meets Boy

This is part of the Queer Film Blogathon hosted by Caroline over at Garbo Laughs.

I don't think I'm offering any blazing insight into Weekend (2011, directed by Andrew Haigh) when I say that its obvious touchstone is Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise/Sunset diptych. It has the same fleeting affair, the same sense of something larger than a one night stand just flitting out of reach for its lovers, it has the same intimate focus that seems to isolate its lovers in a kind of microcosm away from the rest of the world. The fact that its lovers are queer is almost beside the point. Almost.

The lovers in question are Russell (Tom Cullen) and Glen (Chris New). Russell isn't closeted, but he seems really uncomfortable with his sexuality, especially when he's around all his straight friends, who are all settling down into normative straight lives. He seems uncomfortable in gay spaces, too, but he leaves a party held by his straight friends to go drinking at a gay bar. This is where he meets Glen, who is a rootless artist who is completely stand-offish when it comes to commitment. Presumably, both lovers intended their initial coupling to be completely ephemeral, but that changes when Glen asks Russell to recap their encounter on tape. This starts a conversation and the two of them begin to feel the pull of an actual relationship. There's a negotiation between their two differing varieties of queerness, as well as a negotiation of intimacy. The movie consists in the main of intimate conversations. Even conversations that take place in public seem to exclude everything but the two of them. Hanging over all of this is the deadline. The movie, necessarily, takes place over the course of a weekend (it's the title of the film, after all), and it asks the question of whether two days is enough to form a lasting relationship.

At the end of Weekend, there's a "kiss him, you fool!" moment. In a conventional romance, this would result in the couple living happily ever after once a compromise is made to keep them together. In this movie, Glen boards his train and the couple is sundered. I kind of love endings like this because they're indicative of a truth that Hollywood has forgotten. Endings don't need to be happy, they only need to be satisfying. It seems more "real," too. That's the secret behind this movie, by the way. It has an air of authenticity that eludes most romances. Russell is a clearly defined person, with foibles and neuroses and a life that extends beyond the screen. Ditto Glen.

That authenticity spills into the movie's treatment of sex. It doesn't surprise me that the a film from the queer sector is far more matter of fact, far more practical, and far more comfortable with sex than what you might see from straight cinema and it's something from which straight cinema could take lessons. Sex in romance films is usually some kind of idealized experience. It doesn't account for the way bodies fit together or don't or the presence of bodily fluids. You never see a couple in straight romantic comedy arguing about who gets to sleep on the wet spot, nor do you ever, ever see bodily fluids on screen. You do here. There's a really sweet scene in Weekend that involves a belly bespattered with jizz. The sex in Weekend acts as character development, it acts as enhanced intimacy. It's hot, but it's not porn. While Russell and Glen are having it, there's always a level of relationship, whether building or impeding, in the way the acts are staged. It's refreshing to watch, given that most sex scenes in movies are either boringly uncreative or ridiculously coy (or both).

The politics of being queer are always just below the surface in Weekend. While neither Russell or Glen occupies an extreme position along the queer political spectrum, they occupy positions that are far enough apart to provide conflict. Russell isn't a closet case, really, but he seems like an assimilationist. It's not entirely clear that his friends know that he's gay until later in the movie and the way he ducks out of a gathering of friends to go to the bar is suggestive of someone who is hiding himself. Glen, for his part, is more open, though he's not a radical. In their first meeting, Glen has the posture of a man who thinks his lover is ashamed of him, and he might be justified. The way he confronts Russell with the tape player is an effective mechanism that lets the film bridge the gap between the two men such that they form a tight relationship because it forces them both to articulate what they think makes for a relationship and what makes for a comfortable life while being gay.

Director Andrew Haigh, for his part, gets out of the way. This isn't a film that's encumbered by style, and that's to the good. It's more or less reportorial, which allows the characters themselves tell the story without the formal elements of the film intruding. The only concession to something like style is the way the camera is placed nearer to the actors than usual, a conceit that feeds the feeling of intimacy the movie generates. The performances by Tom Cullen and Chris New hold up to the scrutiny of that close camera, and the movie has an unforced naturalism because of it, whether its bedroom conversations take place in the actual bedroom or not. It maneuvers itself to a pretty good ending, too, given that it has an awareness that all love stories have sad endings.


Caroline said...

Another stellar review. Thank you, thank you for all this beautiful content for the Queer Film Blogathon.

Vulnavia Morbius said...

I love this time of the year! I'm sure I'm alienating my regular readership this week (my analytics support this, unfortunately), but I don't care. This is important.