Criterion Collection

Andrew Haigh

Tom Cullen,
Chris New,
Jonathan Race,
Laura Freeman,
Jonathan Wright,
Loretto Murray,
Sarah Churm,
Vauxhall Jermaine

Unrated, 97 minutes

Let’s Spend The Night Together
by Michael D. Klemm
Posted online July, 2013

Going home with a stranger is both scary and sexy. For Glen, an experimental artist, you become a blank canvas when you sleep with someone you don’t know… and you can project onto that canvas whoever you want to be.

Brit writer / director Andrew Haigh’s acclaimed 2011 film, Weekend, is a terrific little character study of two very different gay men. Russell and Glen meet in a dance club and spend the night together. Theirs will be a short romance; in two days Glen leaves to attend college in America. Nothing and everything happens, but over the weekend they will enjoy more passion and connection than most people will know in their lifetimes.

Russell (Tom Cullen) is a young English bloke who lives an ordinary life. He works as a lifeguard. Russell always says that things are “fine” but the timbre of his voice suggests otherwise. He is Godfather to his best friend Jamie’s daughter. We will learn that he is an orphan and the only family he has is Jamie’s. He is comfortable with them but restless; as the film begins he is smoking pot before going to visit. After enjoying their company, Russell needs to be with his own kind and leaves to indulge the other part of his life and get wasted in a gay bar.

Russell, already stoned when he gets there, drinks way more than he should. He meets Glen and takes him home. In the morning, over coffee, Glen teases Russell, telling him that he has broken an unwritten rule by brushing his teeth. “You smell all minty fresh,” he says, “and I smell of cock and bum.” Russell likes his bedmate’s sense of humor. And then Glen reminds Russell why he came home with him. Demanding his “pound of flesh,” he turns on a tape recorder. He wants Russell to talk about the sex that they had, and he is going to use the tape in some vague art project.

The film’s first masterstroke was not showing the sex (we will see plenty more later). Russell was wasted and the two men remember things differently. We are invited to imagine what the sex was like by listening to their words. It is both erotic and confessional. With Glen’s coaching, Russell opens up and describes their lovemaking in more detail. Glen’s questions get more personal; at times also a bit snarky. He asks Russell why he wouldn’t bottom. Is it because it would have made you feel too… gay? This question hits a nerve, especially when also asked if he is out.

It’s the classic opposites attract scenario. Glen is an artist, and pretty militant about gay rights. Mostly closeted, Russell is only out to his best friend and a few others. He feels fine when he is in his apartment, but he is scared to be open in public. Even with Jamie he shares very little. At work, he has to listen to straight guy locker room talk. Riding the bus, he sees a straight couple making out and hears teenagers telling fag jokes. Russell is fine with being gay, but he doesn’t like feeling different from the others.

Glen, on the other hand, could give a fuck. He alarms Russell when he yells out the window at some homophobic kids. Russell panics. “They’ll chuck bricks through my window!” Glen replies, “You live 14 floors up.” Again and again, Glen’s sense of humor will be reassuring. Russell will admire Glen’s comfort with being out and wonder why he can’t be like that himself.

They meet again when Russell gets off work. Russell gives Glen a ride back to the apartment on his bicycle, and the scene is funny and charming without being cloying. They get high, they talk, they laugh, they have sex again. While there certainly seems to be quite a spark growing between them, living happily ever after is not in the cards. Glen reveals that he is leaving the country tomorrow. He is going to Portland, Oregon for a two year art study. He also makes it clear that he doesn’t do boyfriends. This is too bad for Russell. He clearly wishes that things could be otherwise.

Glen might be feeling the same way too, even if he doesn’t admit it. He invites Russell to come out with some friends that night to see him off. They ditch the friends, ride bumper cars in an amusement park and then go back to Russell’s place. They get stoned, they talk, they have sex, they talk some more. Bring stoned, of course, makes it easier to open up and their conversations become more and more confessional.

It’s a pity that Glen is going away because these guys have amazing chemistry together. There is a terrific early scene where they smoke some pot and share one of those great laughs that make life worth living. Russell says that he lived in foster homes until he was 16, and Glen tells him that he finds the whole orphan thing sexy. When Russell begins to giggle and asks if he is mocking his “tragic childhood,” Glen tells him that he just imagined him as Oliver Twist with Mr. Bumble and both men fall on each other laughing. And then their eyes meet. Glen strokes the beard on Russell’s chin. Now we see the sex.

Russell later reveals a little “art project” of his own. He always writes about every man he has sex with, and he opens his laptop to read a few excerpts. Much of it is sad. Earlier, one of Glen’s friends told Russell that he must be special because Glen always lets her listen to his sex tapes but he wouldn’t let her listen to this one. She also tells him about Glen’s ex; a man who cheated on him and then was beaten up in a park. Glen is painted as being damaged by that relationship. It doesn’t help that his friends aren’t exactly supportive (they are taking bets that he won’t go to Oregon). He calls his friends a noose around his neck. He wants to “redraw” himself, but “someone keeps hiding the pencil.” Glen has a lot of anger inside. Will Russell manage to help him let some of it go and maybe even learn how to fall in love again?

Glen, outgoing and funny, helps Russell lose his fear of being out. Russell makes Glen realize that maybe he does want a relationship deep down and doesn't want to be alone. The impact that each has on the other is life changing. Their story is touching, heartfelt and honest. The ending is very emotional and these guys will break your heart.

Weekend made many straight movie critics’ ten best lists; in fact I first heard of the film when Roger Ebert gave it a glowing review last year. It’s heartening to see that our stories are now perceived by the mainstream as being just as universal as anyone else’s. It’s also worth noting that the DVD is a Criterion Collection release! There are gay-specific politics in Weekend (Glen: “We mustn’t upset the straights”) but inserted in such a way that the audience isn’t hit over the head. Without relying on speeches, the director explores themes, like the different degrees of being out, simply through the realistic dialogue between the two lovers.

This is a beautifully constructed film. As I noted before, nothing and everything happens. The characters reveal themselves in layers organically as the story develops. Scenes near the end mirror scenes from the beginning. Much of the film is shot in long hand held camera takes, preserving the intimacy of the performance. The acting is superb, seemingly spontaneous and always convincing with never a false note. Cullen and New are just amazing together as Russell and Glen. Their easy going chemistry makes you totally believe the attraction between them. The emotional peaks are plentiful as well as the laughs. And, yes, the sex is hot too - romantic with lots of kissing. Weekend pleases on every level.

Weekend made me think of an iconic speech from Citizen Kane. Kane’s old friend, the elderly Bernstein, tells a young reporter that Rosebud may have been some girl. When the reporter is skeptical, Bernstein tells him a story. “One day [as a young man] I was crossing over to Jersey on the ferry, and as we pulled out, there was another ferry pulling in, and on it there was a girl waiting to get off. A white dress she had on. She was carrying a white parasol. I only saw her for one second. She didn't see me at all, but I'll bet a month hasn't gone by since that I haven't thought of that girl.” Russell and Glen will remember each other, and the weekend they spent together, for the rest of their lives. And you, the viewer, will never forget their short romance either.