Sunday, November 06, 2011

Weekend


In a given year, LGBT representations in the media are far from scarce. There are any number of sassy apartment neighbors or hairdressers or whomever – each portrayed with varying levels of sincerity and insight. However, since most films and television shows are lacking in those qualities, likewise are their subjects. With or without intention, most LGBT characters have the effect of separation and alienation from the audience. These people are different from you. They don’t share your concerns, desires, goals, or, much less, your morals. In fact, they probably want to corrupt YOUR concerns, desires, goals, and morals.




With astounding regularity, minorities are portrayed as conceptions first, and people second. The effect is a supreme focus on how these people are different. It pushes us further and further away from that point of recognition with others which is so precious – that moment of pure human interaction. It’s such interactions that bridge similarities and differences without discounting them. They allow for progress. They allow for civil disagreement. Genuine connection with another person is a virtually essential aspect of what it means to be a human. Inasmuch as film does affect us, in this way many movies probably hurt us.


By no means do I mean to start a pity party for LGBT people or any other minority. The truth is that the general mediocrity and shortsightedness of Hollywood doesn’t particularly care about its subject matter. With artistry fine-tuned (or, dampened) to a craft, there is an improper presumption of artistic and aesthetic merit whenever a camera is turned on and handled in a proficient manner. In other words, just because a movie looks good or sounds good, has a cool tracking shot or whatever, that doesn’t mean it’s a good movie. So whether the subject of a film is a blonde bimbo, high school jock, aging businessman, or college dropout, it doesn’t really matter. Any of these people are vulnerable to being poorly portrayed and stereotyped. That being said, I’ll add this quick caveat: the number of good films with decent representations of minority characters is disproportionately low. And that finally brings me to the topic of this review (if you couldn’t tell), Weekend.



Director Andrew Haigh, having many “assistant editor” credits to his name, has only helmed two feature length films. The first was Greek Pete (2009), which attempted to give the viewer a glimpse into the life of a male escort. While turning some heads, the film didn’t really make a noticeable splash in most of the United States. That year American audiences were a little too occupied with a certain other film. Maybe if Greek Pete had blue skin and stuck his appendage into trees and flying dragon things, more people would have noticed him. Anyway, keeping the same topic of male sexuality, he has made with Weekend a very mature look into the nature of love, companionship, and loss. The film’s maturity is exhibited through its primary players and its uncontrived plot.


Russell (Tom Cullen) is an unassuming man. He works as a lifeguard, is gay, and he generally sticks to himself. We do get to see his best friend since childhood, though, who is fine with Russell’s sexuality and perhaps even wants to understand more about this part of his life. While Russell does often seem to be a confident person, he also seems to struggle with insecurities. He’s the guy who can easily sit alone or with others at a party. While at a bar one night, he sees Glen (Chris New), and they end up sleeping together. Glen is much more outgoing. He’s more the kind of guy who knows how to use his good looks and charm to get what he wants (take Russell, for example). His friends are more part of a party scene than Russell’s. While Russell is happy to engage in long conversations, it’s Glen who is more likely to initiate such a talk. In these ways and more, Russell and Glen seem two very different men on paper. Yet, over this weekend they are able to connect with each other in that way we all hope to connect with another person. You know when you first meet someone and you have a pretty good idea that this person is someone you could be good friends with (even if this is primarily based off of one or two conversations)? It’s basically that kind of a situation – just add sex. In this process, they come to find something more profound and intimate than either one expected. 

Glen runs life as fast as he can; he “doesn’t do boyfriends.” One gets the impression that if he slowed down for a minute, his own insecurities and fears would catch up with him in an instant. For him, life’s too short to deal with that stuff. And so he runs. Russell, on the other hand, moves at a much more measured pace. He doesn’t seem to allow himself many extravagances. Most likely, he is held back a bit by his fears. In fact, he probably has to fight his self-esteem from questioning why someone like Glen would be interested in him. As fate would have it, though, during this unexpected weekend, Russell opens up and Glen slows down. All is going exceedingly well until Glen confesses that he’s leaving for America the next day. While this event is arguably a contrivance (I don’t think so, personally), it works as an instigator of loss – something that every relationship has to deal with in some form, at some time. And here is the main conflict: how will these two different people react to potential loss? How hard will they fight to preserve something that may or may not be worth the effort? Is the point even to make and maintain this connection in itself, or is it something more internal, perhaps even spiritual?


Russell and Glen are each relatable in their own ways, if not personally, then identifiably with people we know or have at least met. And even if we’ve never been in their situation, we know it because we know them. We know their feelings. We recognize their thought processes. In some way we have entered into a relationship with them. And such is the joy of films with good storytelling. Doesn’t it feel like you know Indiana Jones or Randle McMurphy or Ferris Bueller, or even Baloo the Bear? Film, as art, can become part of your life in some strange ways. For Weekend, its identifiability through realism is its strength. Not “realism” in the sense of gritty, ugly violence or (ironically) unappealing sexuality. Rather, I’m talking about an approach to film that is earnest, and respects both its characters and audience. The story is allowed to unfold, and the characters are allowed to really exist in that story without being jerked around by a godlike director. 

Even though it may be too late, I don’t mean to speak too highly of this film. It’s by no means the cinematic Second Coming. However, Haigh shows how a film of modest means that is well acted and crafted can strike a unique and pleasing note in a sea of discordant movies. Weekend deserves to join the conversation of the best LGBT-themed films with Milk, A Single Man, Philadelphia, Mysterious Skin, Brokeback Mountain, and others. However, and AGAIN, what makes these or any other films good or bad is not the subject matter, but how the subject matter is addressed. And Weekend ultimately succeeds because of its humanity.

4 comments:

agust symeon said...

Wonderful review. You touch on some very important ways in which we can deepen our approach to watching films in general through a critical engagement with a particular film such as this. Definitely wants to make me see it but your writings also made me think a bit more deeply about how films engage sensitive issues such as this.

It seems that the primary wonder of good art is its ability to make us more humane; less legalistic, less moralistic, less fundamentalistic (whether that fundamentalism is of the liberal or conservative kind). To open one's mind to theretofore unknown horizons and possibilities.

Reido Bandito said...

Thanks. It was fun to write about.

e said...

Wow. This blog post was super gay. I read the whole thing with a lisp in my head. I wish George Clooney would have written it with a wry smile that says he knows how the world works and he knows how good looking he is.... or something. Anyway, really, great post. Clean writing and summary of the film. I also liked your point about humanity making the film. On that note, thinking of cheap stereotypes of minorities as candy, I wonder if people don't know what they're getting into most of the time when they watch one of these jocks in a struggle, aging business men, or first time love movies, knowing they won't get to relate to the characters, but keep them in their place, and the writers knowing it's the previous carried notions that make the movie easy to make and easy to watch. . . often in a meeting I find my goal is not to get to know a person, not to let them know me (see you later humanity) but just get some business done. Maybe some movies are like that. The business being a smile, or a forgetting, etc. You should write another real post sometime again. Cheers.

Reido Bandito said...

I don't think I can keep my response to an acceptable length for a blog comment field. Good question. For the time being I'll just say that how people are written and portrayed will often make or break a movie for me. I'd like to think I'm realistic about the whole thing, though. If it were easy to pull off, then it wouldn't be pervasive. That being said, artists (particularly filmmakers) have an ethical-responsibility dimension in their work. I can imagine your response to that idea, so i'll stop.