Perfect Weekend

If you’ve ever met someone who changed your life in the space of days, you’ll relate to something in this movie.

Tom Cullen and Chris New in Weekend
Tom Cullen and Chris New in Weekend

Still from Weekend © IFC.

Just when you start to despair for the future of a movie genre, along comes a specimen to prove it can still be found in the wild. Andrew Haigh’s remarkable Weekend (IFC Films) unassumingly, almost offhandedly, demonstrates the continuing existence of the romantic comedy, if a comedy can be defined as a story in which, by whatever amusingly circuitous route, love eventually wins out. This miniaturist romance takes place over the course of one weekend. The couple in question is gay, but the film never plays like an earnest brief on behalf of gay equality: See, we can fall in love too! Haigh is both honest and specific in his portrait of a particular milieu (the gay male culture of Nottingham, England), but Weekend’s appeal transcends orientation. If you’ve ever met someone who changed your life in the space of days, you’ll relate to something in this movie.

That’s assuming you can roll with Weekend’s rambling, discursive structure and hyper-naturalistic, occasionally indecipherable dialogue. In its apparently casual construction and focus on the lives of young people in flux, Weekend sometimes resembles the work of filmmakers like Lynne Shelton or Andrew Bujalski—an emerging style that’s often given a name I abjured last year for its imprecision and implied derision. (I swore never to use the word again in these pages, but it rhymes with “bumblesnore.”) It seems to me this approach to making movies is now established enough to merit a different name, and more sustained critical attention. Haigh shoots on digital video in an unobtrusive vérité style, and his actors’ overlapping interchanges sound so real you think they must be improvised. But they can’t be—the conversational beats are too precisely timed, with each change of subject taking the couple to a different, more intimate, and riskier place. (Haigh, who makes his living as a film editor, also wrote the script and edited.)

Russell (Tom Cullen, in a breakout debut performance) works as a lifeguard at a city pool. He’s a loner, and something of a stoner (one of the first things we see him do in his carefully appointed bachelor flat is wake and bake.) One night he hits a club, picks up a cute guy named Glen (Chris New), and takes him home for a one-night stand. In the morning, Glen asks if he can get Russell on tape narrating their night together for an art project he’s working on. The ensuing frank conversation exposes the differences between the two men: the proudly out Glen is boundary-pushing and playfully raunchy, while Russell is bashful and a bit prudish, still closeted to his co-workers and some of his family. Glen presses Russell to finish the job of coming out, and shruggingly recounts his own conversation with his parents at age 16: “I told ‘em, nature or nurture, it’s your fault. Get over it.”

There’s an immediate spark between these two wildly dissimilar men, but as Glen tells Russell the morning after their tryst, “I don’t do boyfriends.” Later, he’ll add a corollary that illuminates, to us if not to himself, the reason why: “I don’t do goodbyes.” But in the next 48 hours, Russell and Glen will find themselves doing a fair bit of both. As it turns out, Glen, a gallery employee, is about to leave for a two-year art course in America. (The class difference between the two men is subtly but sharply etched, with middle-class Glen just a bit more educated and upwardly mobile than the less privileged Russell.)

With Glen’s time in England about to run out, there’s no point in the pair getting any closer than they already have—but by the same logic, there’s no reason not to get close. They compress a whole love affair into a weekend, riding bumper cars and eating cotton candy at a carnival, then staying up all night doing cocaine and telling their life stories. They debate gay marriage: Russell finds it a defiant public expression of love, while Glen argues it’s a conformist capitulation to straight domestic mores. (It’s refreshing to hear someone in a movie give voice to this unorthodox but not uncommon opinion, one also expressed by Rachel Maddow in a recent interview.) Russell and Glen fight and make up, have epically hot (and mildly graphic) sex, say their farewells and then pop back to make one last point. Their inability to separate is almost comical, until suddenly, as Glen’s train to the airport is about to leave the station, it becomes unexpectedly painful and real.

There aren’t many films about relationships, gay or straight, that are this attentive to the details of modern courtship. I loved the moment when Glen and Russell, saying goodbye after their first night together, traded cell phones and awkwardly typed in their own numbers, neither seeming quite sure he wanted a second date. Andrew Haigh’s accomplishment is modest but significant: He’s made a sharply observed love story that’s funny without punch lines and romantic without sap. I won’t give away whether Russell and Glen get their happy ending, except to say that in its poignant final scenes Weekend offers a joyfully expanded vision of what romantic fulfillment can be.