Writer-director Andrew Haigh’s British drama “Weekend” depicts a fleeting romantic encounter with delicacy and philosophical depth, but its chief appeal is simplicity. Revolving around a brief affair between two young men with vastly different perspectives on life, the film operates on a familiar dynamic; however, it works here thanks to the precise alignment of talented actors and a focused screenplay. Humming along on the commitment of its engaging leads, “Weekend” builds into a powerful encapsulation of an identity crisis over the course of three passionate days.
Haigh, making his sophomore feature after 2010’s “Greek Pete,” primarily takes the perspective of Russell (Tom Cullen), a shy lifeguard and semi-closet case who lives by himself. Following an early dinner with friends, he heads alone to a local gay bar and winds up going home with the seductive Glen (Chris New), an outgoing artist-type who urges Russell to record the details of their sexual encounter on tape the next morning. Russell hesitantly indulges the request, revealing his greater trepidation over leading a gay lifestyle.
The men are instantly attracted to the other’s differences, as if discovering the missing details of their own lives. Bound for America when the week arrives, Glen carves out room for his new companion and the impromptu relationship quickly covers a lot of ground. Attending parties, smoking pot and having sex, they talk about art and politics and develop a bond as Monday’s deadline looms.
Fiercely anti-relationship and playfully intellectual, Glen routinely opposes Russell’s conservative ways. However, Glen’s free-love radicalism masks a darker backstory. The tension mounts, with Glen’s feisty outlook running counter to Russell’s pragmatism. “Imagine if people were open about themselves,” Glen says. “But people aren’t,” Russell shoots back. They fall into an extensive coke-fueled debate about gay marriage before quickly making up and starting to worry about their emerging connection. With this on-again, off-again rhythm, “Weekend” maintains its quiet spell. By the final minutes, the men seem to have grown so close that their inevitable farewell takes on the semblance of tragedy. (Haigh even gives the scene a classic cinematic flourish by setting it at a train station.)
In a single, reductive soundbite, “Weekend” could be considered the gay “Medicine for Melancholy,” which similarly dealt with the aftermath of a one-night stand. But “Weekend” is more specifically tied to Russell’s personal dilemma about the travails of coming out. His epiphany arrives when Glen tells him about the gap between “who you want to be and who you are,” but the story’s time constraints mean that Russell never figures out how to fix that problem. And yet with the final, contemplative shot, he conveys an unspoken dimension of progress, even though his next step is anybody’s guess.
HOW WILL IT PLAY? Having screened in the Emerging Visions section at SXSW on the first day of the festival, “Weekend” received an instantly enthusiastic response from many buyers and has been developing breakout status as a gay relationship movie with crossover potential. In the right hands, it could become just that.
criticWIRE grade: A-