Queer Story

The young man sporting the checked cap, the one with the pale skin, ruddy cheeks, and dark facial hair, lives alone, in a flat that’s one step up from a council flat. There are windows in the sitting room and in the bedroom, too, but not much light gets through: it’s England, after all, and the sky is like lead. The young man is gay, and hangs out, for the most part, with people he doesn’t assume will understand them–they’re all straight–but he loves them just the same–the young, chubby Mum, his friend, the Dad, and the little baby. After he smokes a little dope with his friends, he takes a night bus to a club, one of those dinky little places where nothing exciting happens, and where, if you were to score, it wouldn’t necessarily be with Mr. Right; indeed, this club is so beat you’d probably meet Mr. Wrong, a fact you’d struggle to forget the next day, under the double weight of a hangover, and remorse. Certainly that’s all you’d expect Russell (Tom Cullen) to dig up in that atmosphere of flashing disco lights. But then, out of the man made fog, he sees Glen (Chris New) a small person with a pushy way about him. The two men–they’re in their late twenties, maybe–go to Russell’s place, and they make love, and before you know it, their defenses start to fall away–particularly Glen’s. Despite or because he’s the more-experienced -in-the-gay-world dude, Glen does everything he can to alienate Russell–standard distancing stuff, like talking about other sexual experiences, and saying shit like, “I don’t do boyfriend.” But that’s precisely what they’re doing–becoming boyfriends. And then Glen lays it on Russell: he’s leaving to study in America in two day’s time. There’s something about Russell–innocence? A powerful need to believe in love, certainly–that keeps him there with Glen, while Glen squirms and tries to avoid being a bride stripped bare by only one bachelor, even. In “Weekend,” director Andrew Haigh’s emotionally true, and unsettling, debut feature, Cullen and New play men who are shaped by an alienation that comes less from being queer than with their failure to turn away from the looking glass that reflects their own limitations. An old story. In Russell and Glen’s brave new gay world, the couple’s needs and fears and miscommunications generally have nothing to do with the status quo. (And when their story partly plays out in the straight world, it’s about violence. Standing on an outdoor train platform with Glen, Russell, gives his tormentors and thus the audience a look of defiance, and incomprehension, and powerful male eroticism: he will protect his love at any cost.) Russell doesn’t talk about his desire much. Perhaps this has something to do with being raised in a number of foster homes. Whatever the reason, he shies away from telling his co-workers, friends, and so on, who he is. Still, he’s the more authentic of the two men, the more exposed, despite Glen’s propensity to verbally challenge blokes in straight bars, let alone putting Russell on the defensive about shy nature. When Russell recalls his hard upbringing, Glen laughs, and you want to strike that little person. How many times has one sat in queer bars the world over and had one’s vulnerability laughed at because it’s at odds with some queen’s idea of self-preservation? Glen can’t stand to feel and yet Russell’s steadfastness and silences makes him feel. And it’s Cullen’s and New’s remarkable acting, and Haigh’s long takes and understated visual sense, where he films a world where splendor happens spontaneously, as it does and should, that makes “Weekend,” so satisfying to watch and reminiscent of certain gorgeous nineteen-eighties stories about England during the age of Thatcher, such as “Mona Lisa,” and “The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne.” But those movies were made more than twenty years ago, and “Weekend” is no throwback. Instead, Haigh has learned something important from those powerful character-driven projects: how to separate sentiment from the sentimental.