British writer/director Andrew Haigh’s acclaimed romance Weekend is that rarest of beasts: a gay film that doesn’t suck.
Speaking to the Star Observer, Haigh acknowledged the relief many viewers had expressed upon seeing the film.
“When we first started showing Weekend in festivals, you could tell people were worried it’d be another bad gay film. To start with, I think people were just relieved that it wasn’t as bad as they were expecting, which I suppose is a sad state of affairs,” he chuckled.
Weekend follows 72 hours in the life of Russell (the gorgeous but tragically heterosexual Tom Cullen), who picks up Glen (Chris New, openly gay and recently married to his partner) in a seedy bar one Friday night. Waking up in bed the next morning, their fiery, volatile connection deepens over the weekend, despite — or perhaps because of — the knowledge that Glen is due to move overseas on the Monday.
Plotwise, it’s a remarkably simple film: boy meets boy — and that’s about it.
“When you’re doing a character study, which is essentially what this is, it’s important to keep it simple,” Haigh said.
“It did make it hard to pitch it to people though. They’d say ‘Yes, but what actually happens?’ Well, they talk a lot …”
What enlivens the film is the remarkable chemistry between its two leads, found after an exhaustive audition process.
“The chemistry was the key, really; it was just a process of finding the two people who had that chemistry. There seemed to be that spark from [Cullen and New] — they seemed excited and challenged by each other.”
Haigh admitted that when writing the film, he’d imagined casting two gay actors in the roles.
“I really wanted it to be authentic — I know it’s frustrating when you watch films with straight actors playing gay. But during the audition process, obviously you can’t ask people if they’re gay. In the end, I had to go with who was best for the role — it turned out Tom, who is straight, was.
“There’s no point going for two gay people if one of them isn’t very good.”
Cullen is wonderful in the role (although Haigh acknowledged his lead actor’s heterosexuality had angered some viewers — “One guy at a Q&A was furious when he found out. He said he felt like he’d been conned!”), bringing a quiet poise to Russell, who lives on a grim council estate and deals with the daily reality of youths shouting homophobic abuse through his window.
It’s a depiction of working class gay life rarely seen on the big screen.
“His class does play a role in the film, as does his location. It’s easy to forget, if you live in the centre of London or Sydney, that there are places in the world where it isn’t as safe to be gay.
“If you live in Nottingham, you can’t walk down the street holding your boyfriend’s hand without at least getting stares.”
The film is also unapologetic in its depiction of gay male sexuality — it’s all there, from cruising to cum rags. It’s all far more believable than, say, that ridiculously inauthentic sex scene in the otherwise excellent Brokeback Mountain.
“I always laugh about that sex scene. OK, they’ve supposedly never had sex before, and in it goes, just like that. How does that happen? It was obviously made by a straight person!”
In contrast, Weekend is clearly the work of a gay man, right down to the line in the opening minutes of the film, as the characters wake up in bed after their first night together, about “smelling of cock and bum”.
“My producer always had a real problem with that first scene in bed, saying it was too explicit and it’d put people off. I said, exactly. You start as you mean to go on — and if you can’t handle that, leave the cinema now.
“I wanted a wide audience, but I was never prepared to water the film down in order to please that audience. In doing that, you end up pleasing no one.”
INFO: Weekend is now screening in limited release. It is also playing at Dendy Newtown on February 20 at 9pm as part of the 2012 Mardi Gras Film Festival.