Friday, September 23, 2011

Cineplexed: My Review of "Weekend," the (Now) Not-So-Little, Unfortunately Not-So-Good Gay Indie Film

I had the opportunity to attend a screening of the British movie "Weekend," director Andrew Haigh's much buzzed indie film that is making waves as being one of a select group of gay-themed movies to attract a wider, mainstream (read: straight) audience. Of course, as with anything I do in my life, there is a story that goes along with me attending this screening, but I'm saving it for next week. No... next week, y'all.

For now, I thought I would give my brief review of the film itself before we talk about the drama surrounding my seeing it (which would have made a good movie in and of itself) in a separate post next week.

Now, "Weekend" has been praised by HuffPo and the Village Voice to name a few, and words like "moving," "bracing," and my personal favorite, "disarmingly candid" have been used to describe it in other write-ups. Thus, I had very high hopes for this film (the trailer is at the end of the post for those who would like a sampling). Now, that I've seen it, I've been brought down to earth. One of the reasons I wanted to write a review at all is because I haven't seen one that says the thing I'm about to say:

"Weekend" was good, but it was in no way great and is extremely, nearly fatally flawed in total. I'll break down my thoughts into an actual review below (and I just want to thank the people who invited me to attend the screening! I appreciated it very much! Any negativity isn't directed at you!).

"Weekend" unfolds as a story of the burgeoning relationship between Glen (played by Chris New with either frenetic Woody Allen shading or with such precise actorly exactitude that it becomes distracting) and Russell (played by Tom Cullen who is given exactly one good scene and a lot of other scenes in which he can blear sleepily at the world around him seemingly disinterested), two young gay men living in those grotty weather-worn urban UK neighborhoods that shows like "EastEnders" make seem so rich and colorful.

Glen and Russell meet at a gay bar and proceed to go home with one another for sex. The next morning, they end up talking, Russell takes part in Glen's unexplained art project about gay sex, and they part--this encounter meant to be life changing and the pull that draws them back to each other. This is the whole movie in a nutshell, and although it's not terribly original, it does serve as a realistic backbone. But then there are the problems.

I want to stop and talk about another movie that's similar to this one, the Ryan Gosling-Michelle Williams vehicle "Blue Valentine."

Both are talking-based, high-value mumblecore movies about relationships that strive for verisimilitude, from realistic kitchens to drawn-out conversations (because real people don't end talks at the perfect moment).

The problem when hyper-reality is the basis for your film is that any moment that is false, anything that doesn't make sense and is explained away takes you out of the movie and changes your perception of its reality, thus making it less real and thus thus eroding its goodness. "Valentine" was wildly erratic, so much so that you had dozens of questions at the end for how things fit together that made you have less appreciation for Michelle Williams' real French tips or Ryan Gosling's receding hairline. "Weekend" has fewer inconsistencies, but they pop up in almost every single scene (Would Russell really decorate his apartment like that? Would Glen really only be seeing one guy the way he acts? Would Russell really sit with those people? How does Glen pay for his life?). Each one chips away at this "connection" Glen and Russell are supposed to be forming, and by the end, not only does none of it seem real, it seems boring.

Basically, Glen and Russell don't even really seem to like each other very much for 80 minutes and then profess their love in the last 10 for totally unsupported reasons. Russell is saddled with self-loathing and anxiety over his sexuality. Glen is unhappy too, but is an escapist constantly looking for new exit strategies to keep him interested in life.

If the movie were about these two as separate people, we could have something (although the cliche of Russell being the strong silent top to Glen's antsy, talkative bottom was better done in "Brokeback Mountain," which is of course a much better film). When they're together, they seem in a constant battle for oneupmanship, for proving to the other person that their worldview is correct. There is little warmth or affection. Even the clinical sex scenes seem a race to an end with little in the way of bonding or all those other things that sustain relationships.

The other slight, which seems nitpicky but is relevant, is that the actors who play Glen and Russell are strikingly physically beautiful. Coupled with their lack of chemistry, the beauty of each man is like an escape hatch. Never for a moment do you believe that once out of each others' sight, each guy wouldn't be able to attract someone else to fall head over heels for. Now, I mentioned "Brokeback" and of course, Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal were incredibly beautiful in that film.

However, theirs was not a hyper-realistic world. It was (a fake) one of extreme oppression where they had no place to turn but to each other. Their beauty almost had to be muted so it wouldn't attract. On the other hand, the gay scene in "Weekend" is quite fleshed out. Both Glen and Russell have had numerous sexual conquests and appear to have no struggle finding more, which is actually realistic given the way they both look. However, when Glen and Russell walk and talk in outdoor scenes, one carries the fear that one of them will just walk away from the other, distracted by shiny lights or a need to brood for an hour or two before choosing another proto-gay to swoon over.

While I recommend seeing "Weekend" if only to form your own opinion, I point to another great gay British movie that is actually my favorite movie ever made (I know, not "Brokeback"!) for a more measured and subtle portrait of two gay men falling in love. 1996's "Beautiful Thing" (above) treaded in the same waters except the men were really boys. What's strange is that although "Thing" was much louder and vibrant than "Weekend," it actually came off as more realistic.

In the real world, things are messy, people make noise, have opinions, challenge each other, which was all lacking in "Weekend." "Thing"'s romance between shy Jamie and abused Ste was awkward and difficult the way relationships actually are. "Weekend"'s Glen and Russell imposed their own set of difficulties onto their situation in the form of endless conversations with absolutely no resolutions but maintained a constant cool that seemed like falling in love was predestined and painless.

My favorite scene in "Beautiful Thing" is when Jamie's mother has found out that her son is gay and son Jamie goes outside to talk with his mom's boyfriend, Tony (played by amazing actor Ben Daniels). Jamie and Tony's conversation is quiet but in those few moments, Tony teaches Jamie about understanding and love and owning the reality around you and not being afraid of it.

In "Weekend," Glen and Russell talk a lot, but for all the conversation, no one (including the audience) seems to be learning much.

Question Time: Have you heard of "Weekend"? Have you seen it? What were your thoughts? What movies do you think have realistic depictions of falling in love? What are your favorite gay movies? Do you think hype has any affect on how you experience a movie? Lastly, how much can't you wait until I tell the story about me going to this screening? I can't wait either!


westernnc said...

for me I didn't find the trailer engaging to a point I would want to watch the movie. It didn't tell me anything that tickled my curiosity, beyond the opening shot across his wienie.What I did find interesting was the use of color in the title WeekEnd with "end" being in yellow and having more emphasis. The graphics along with the sound track hinted more towards a psychological thriller with a resulting murder than a lover's story.

Junior said...

Dale, if this was a psychological thriller I would have LOVED it! We need some kind of something here! It was so wan and flat. Oh well. Maybe in another 5 years, we'll get another gay movie that people will actually see.

David Opie said...

I still haven't watched Weekend but I have heard great things about it. I love Blue Valentine and Beautiful Thing though, classic films. If you haven;t already, check out Keep The Lights On. It explores some similar themes so you might like it.

Junior said...

Hi David! I actually saw "Keep the Lights On" again thanks to the press folks who allowed me to see "Weekend" and whom we thank profusely. I liked it a lot better than "Weekend." The leads seemed to have more chemistry than the guys in "Weekend" and the story seemed to be rooted in a bit more truth. There were still a few false notes, but I loved it. Nothing compares to my "Beautiful Thing," but it did reach for greatness!