BluRay Review: WEEKEND

When Weekend director Andrew Haigh talks about his film carrying a message for everyone, gay or straight, it's a welcome mission statement. Queer cinema tends to divide opinion like few other genres, not least because at one extreme when it's telling stories of persecution and repression it risks speaking pretty much exclusively to a minority - most of us can't possibly understand what it's like to live in fear based on who we're attracted to. At the other extreme, when it resorts to lipstick lesbianism and limp-wristed, vacant stereotypes it can be so blandly vanilla it ends up largely forgettable. The thing is, Haigh can't quite deliver on his lofty ambitions to find the middle ground that speaks to everyone.

Weekend is a funny, wittily profane, moving and compassionate love story, no argument there, with two guys discovering what started as a one-night stand has forced them to take a good look at themselves, the people they are and what they want out of life. Both leads are terrific, and their chemistry - spoken and unspoken - feels hugely believable. But it's definitely a message movie to some extent, for all their conversations seem so spontaneous, and those messages come across as just that little bit less universal than Haigh would like to think.

In no way is Weekend 'just for the gays' - Haigh is clearly well aware that trap exists, and his script even openly pokes fun at the concept in several scenes. Only those uncomfortable with gay sexuality (whatever their reasons...) could possibly find the film heavy going. It's fairly explicit, if not outright graphic, but to credit everyone involved the sex scenes actually feel like the least divisive moments, where these are clearly just two people attracted to each other enough they want to get intimate, never mind gender. But the way Weekend develops their character arcs over the course of forty-eight hours does occasionally feel like someone climbing on a soapbox.

The film wastes very little time getting started - Russell (Tom Cullen) is attending a house party with some of his close friends, but begs off early in the evening to head home. He stops off at a gay club in town, clearly wanting to go on the pull, and after a few drunken come-hithers we see him wake up the next morning with Glen (Chris New). It's immediately obvious the two men treat their sexuality very differently: Russell is almost shocked when Glen wants him to get a detailed description of their evening down on tape for a college art project he's doing. But there's plainly a rapport between them, and when Glen wants to meet again Russell's more than happy to.

Over the next couple of days they spend more and more time together, first just trading nonsense repartee stoned and giggling in Russell's flat, then sharing personal details, then exploring what made them the people they are - both as gay men and just general human beings. Moderate spoilers; it becomes apparent they won't be able to stay together after the weekend's over (or will they? Etc., etc.) and yet both of them start to realise the relationship, such as it is, has forced them to examine a lot of preconceptions about their identity, sexuality and attitudes to emotional bonds they were hardly even aware they had.

Cullen and New are fantastic, simply put. Few films manage to make mundane chit-chat flow as easily as this - they're completely different stories but the effect is not unlike the dinner table conversations in the first half of Ben Wheatley's disappointing Kill List (the good half, before the plot stops making sense). The two men's back and forth in Weekend is totally believable, with a sense of timing that turns even the silliest exchanges into absolute gold, and the emotional passages into actual revelations. The supporting cast are worth mentioning, too, most of them minor roles but important ones that feel like a real circle of friends rather than token bit parts.

Weekend was clearly made on the cheap, but Haigh and DP Urzsula Pontikos frame the city of Nottingham pretty well. Some of the artier interior scenes head some way off the rails, particularly anything with reflections in mirrors, and the night-time sequences are a little too obviously grainy DV. But there are some gorgeous long shots, particularly those that bookend the film, and the intimate moments are very effectively presented, whether actual sex scenes or just quiet heart to hearts; there's a sense of closeness and connection most romcoms don't even begin to suggest.

The main problem, though, is however good Cullen and New's performances there's always the nagging sensation that they're not one hundred percent actual people. Haigh's never so crass as to make Russell the shy, closeted queer and Glen the rainbow warrior, and the pacing arguably satirises that idea too, but even so Weekend still gives the impression New's character is forever pushing for a reaction and Cullen is resisting. For all the sly meta-commentary and attempts to give both men flaws this approach never manages to come across as one person trying to win the other over: it feels like Haigh putting words in their mouths, or that Russell just can't handle the truth.

None of which makes Weekend a failure, of course. As message movies go, it's still a thoughtful, compassionate, even profound example of the breed. But the best message movies convince you at the very least you need to listen, and - at least from a hetero point of view - Haigh doesn't completely succeed. It's sweet, you think; it's clever, it's a laugh, it even raises a sniffle, you'd happily watch it again but you can't shake the still small voice insisting this isn't really for you. Haigh comes really close to realising his vision; there are moments of absolute joy in Weekend, where that still small voice is pretty damn quiet. Anyone comfortable enough with themselves to enjoy a great little romance whoever it is falling in love should check it out. But it's not quite the brilliant film it could have been.

THE DISC:

Peccadillo Pictures' UK BluRay of Weekend is available to buy now. Note that the check disc supplied doesn't have all the features advertised, and launches straight into what appears to be a stand-in menu with the option to watch the film or the two extras included. There are no chapter stops on the check disc, or any subtitles at all.

AUDIO:

The basic audio track is fine. Weekend is a relatively monotone film, in that there's little in the way of sudden peaks or drops, but the sound is clear enough for the most part. Internet commenters are already complaining about the difficulty of understanding the dialogue, but to a native speaker (I live in the same region the film was shot) it seems like fairly ordinary everyday conversation. People speak fairly quietly, though, and the naturalistic approach means there's not much in the way of precise enunciation. Some of the interiors in bars or clubs are somewhat muffled, too, though there are no absolutely vital lines of dialogue in these passages.

VIDEO:

The picture on the check disc is solid - as stated before Weekend is not a particularly monied production and some of the shots descend into heavy grain or low-light DV fuzz. On the other hand, the transfer itself seems pretty good, and the DV colour palette comes across fairly well for the most part, with a mix of warm tones that suit the softer picture admirably. The more artistic shots are generally sharp, and crisp - this is by no means demo material but it definitely does benefit from the higher definition format.

EXTRAS:

Of the two extras included we get an interview with the director and his two leads - though clearly shot in an EPK setting, and fairly short (around fifteen minutes), this is fairly informative and refreshingly unpretentious. Haigh, Cullen and New are all amusingly awkward at points and yet fairly eloquent when prompted, warming to the task and bouncing off each other very entertainingly - when Cullen inadvertently gives a nothing answer on one particular topic about the film and realises how it sounds it's great to see New and Haigh openly laughing at the other man's gaffe. The Behind the Scenes footage is merely ten minutes of B-roll, though the director and his two stars in particular seem similarly willing to horse around for the camera, very much at ease even when shooting's run them ragged. The check disc does not include subtitles for either of these extras.

Weekend doesn't quite live up to its weighty ambitions - while it's a moving, funny, entertainingly filthy love story, the terrific script and performances can't quite shake off the feeling the message in here is aimed just a bit more at people of a particular sexual orientation, even if the romance between the two leads wants to reach out to everyone. Still, it's a great film either way, still worth watching for all but the most judgemental (who probably wouldn't take anything from it anyway). While Peccadillo Pictures' check disc does not match the feature list advertised for the retail home video release, if the transfer is the same the BluRay is definitely one to pick up for anyone interested, with solid picture and sound. Consider Weekend strongly recommended.

 
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