Films with gay themes rarely get a widespread theatrical release. Unless big stars are involved in a project like Philadelphia, Brokeback Mountain, or Milk, most gay-themed films wind up on the festival circuit and then head straight to home video. And in the case of Andrew Haigh’s Weekend, that’s really a shame for this story of two people making a serious physical and emotional connection over the course of a fateful weekend in their lives could really play to all audiences interested in that mysterious thing called attraction.
Weekend (2011) (Blu-ray)
Directed by Andrew Haigh
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 97 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 surround English
MSRP: $ 39.95
Release Date: August 21, 2012
Review Date: August 15, 2012
Russell (Tom Cullen) meets Glen (Chris New) in a gay bar and takes him home. Each thinks of the other as merely a one-night stand until conversation begins over morning coffee and each begins to make inroads into the other’s psychologically erected roadblocks toward greater intimacy. Over the course of the next couple of days, Russell meets some of Glen’s friends including his flat mate Jill (Laura Freeman), and Russell for the first time shares intimate details with his best friend Jamie (Jonathan Race), a straight man who’s been resentful his best friend doesn’t feel comfortable sharing the personal side of his life with him. Russell admits he’s looking for a relationship, but Glen’s been hurt before by unfaithful lovers, and he’s leaving at the end of the weekend for a two year arts course in America.
The modest story by director Andrew Haigh sneaks up on the viewer. Neither character is initially that appealing or interesting, and yet as layers of defenses are stripped away, we begin hoping for something meaningful to occur for these two damaged men. Haigh wisely keeps the sex scenes for later in the film; we only hear about their first drunken encounter after the fact, and by the time they actually make love on camera, it means something. Russell’s inhibitions about public displays of affection and Glen’s more open frankness about his sexual identity take interesting turns during the film so that by the climax, we see something truly revelatory for the two even amid the faint whistles and epithets hurled from a distance. Between the beginning and end, there’s plenty of talk about jobs (we see Russell at work as a lifeguard), parents (interesting backstories for both men that endear them to us), friends, unhappy dating experiences, and gay rights, and there are lots of drugs and alcohol consumed (so much, in fact, that one wonders how much sex or the quality of it could have been possible). Haigh’s direction is effectively unobtrusive even if he occasionally errs on the side of artiness (photographing the start of a scene in reflective kitchen tiles for no good reason), and the locations in Nottingham seem immediate and very real.
Though the film is not just a two-man show, it certainly focuses primarily on Tom Cullen’s observant but noncommittal Russell and Chris New’s aggressive and extroverted Glen. Both men handle the talk and the physical activity with professional candor and a believable chemistry which makes a viewer’s involvement so much more facile in buying what they’re selling. Jonathan Race as Russell’s best friend and Laura Freeman as Glen’s rather vulgar roommate each make their few moments in the limelight count, especially Race whose eyes betray the hurt he feels being excluded from one portion of his best friend’s life.
The film’s 1.85 theatrical aspect ratio is faithfully reproduced in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Shot digitally, the film isn’t notably razor sharp for most of its running time, and color seems rather drab in many instances. Flesh tones seem realistic, but black levels are only average. Made on a micro-budget, it’s likely this is the best the film could possibly look. The film has been divided into 17 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 surround track has some occasional ambient sounds in the surround part of the soundstage, but this is a very unsophisticated soundtrack (even an evening where the guys ride bumper cars at a local fair doesn’t have much flair). Dialogue hasn’t always been recorded distinctly, and you may find you’ll need to turn on subtitles occasionally (the British accents aren’t at all thick; it’s mediocre sound recording at play here).
“Weekend” is a 30 ½-minute look at the making of the film featuring interviews with director Andrew Haigh, producer Tristan Goligher, stars Tom Cullen and Chris New, and director of photography Ula Pontikos. We find out the director shot the movie in sequence and enjoyed displaying the split between the public and private encounters of his two main characters. It’s presented in 1080p.
Director Andrew Haigh discusses the film’s sex scenes in a 6 ¼-minute piece explaining his rationale about what to show or not to show and his decision to use no music underneath them. This is also in 1080p.
Audition footage between Tom Cullen and Chris New is shown followed by the same two scenes as acted in the movie. This intriguing comparison montage runs 10 ¼ minutes in 1080i.
Actor Chris New’s backstage footage was shot with his own video camera as he shot behind-the-scenes looks at cast and crew at work on set and on location. It runs 8 ½ minutes in 1080i.
A montage of on-set photography stills taken by set photographers Oisin Share and Colin Quinn (known as Quinnford and Scout) runs 7 ¼ minutes in 1080p.
Two short films directed by Andrew Haigh are presented. Though having completely different plots, both shorts illustrate brief encounters between strangers though in these cases it’s between heterosexual couples. Cahuenga Blvd. (2003) runs 6 ¼ minutes. The haunting Five Miles Out (2009) runs 18 ¼ minutes.
The theatrical trailer runs 2 ¼ minutes in 1080p.
The enclosed 18-page booklet contains cast and crew lists, some color stills from the movie, and critic Dennis Lim’s overview of gay cinema and Weekend’s place within that world.
The Criterion Blu-rays include a maneuvering tool called “Timeline” which can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc and the title of the chapter you’re now in. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.
4/5 (not an average)
A modest but increasingly enthralling story of human reaction and interaction, Weekend makes the most of its talented leading players and small budget offering an identifiable story of needful people finding one another if for only a brief time. The bonus features on this Criterion Blu-ray offer superb insight into the filmmaking process and make this unquestionably a recommended release.