Thursday, November 3, 2011
At one point in Weekend one of the lead characters laments the limited commercial prospects of his art project, an attempt to catalogue the minutiae of his homosexual love life. Gay people, he points out, won't show because it will not be salacious enough for them, and straights will avoid it because they prefer to keep anything involving gay sex on another planet altogether. The bit of dialogue doubles as a sly dig from director Andrew Haigh at the limited box office potential of his own film, which will be lucky to find much of an audience outside the art houses of New York and Los Angeles. And that is a crying shame, let me tell you.
Weekend is a fleeting, instant-connection romance in the tradition of Once or Before Sunrise or Brief Encounter if you want to go way back. It has less of the swooning romance of those titles, but makes up for it with an abundance of unvarnished truth and an emotional impact that sneaks up on the viewer and hits hard in the film's closing scenes. It is on par with the great falling in love segments of Blue Valentine, and almost certainly headed for my top ten at the end of the year. Weekend announces the arrival of a considerable new talent in director/writer Haigh and provides a showcase for two stars in the making: introverted and deeply likable Tom Cullen and the slight, tightly-wound Chris New, who is positively shooting off charisma sparks through this thing.
So why do I cringe when I see the poster for Weekend boasting the Grand Jury Prize at Outfest? It's like I can feel the movie being instantly placed firmly in the "easy-to-ignore" category?
I hesitate to even discuss Weekend as a "gay movie" because cinematic love stories this affecting are so rare that discussing the film in terms of its sexuality seriously buries the lede. Weekend has ten times more emotional truth in any one scene than Crazy Stupid Love has in its entire running time. It deserves to be celebrated as an artistic achievement first and foremost, not as some kind of oblique political statement. Weekend treats homosexuality much the way actual gay people do, which is to acknowledge it as something that sets them apart from the mainstream and informs their character and then move on with the messy business of their own lives. I doubt there will be a single audience member who doesn't relate strongly to this material regardless of where they fall on the Kinsey Scale.
Of course, even audiences open-minded enough to give a romance between two men a chance are still likely to shift in their seats at the movie's matter-of-fact treatment of sexuality, the frankness of which would surely send the MPAA to the fainting couch. Add to this that any flick with this raw indie aesthetic is going to be a tough sell - I would call it Mumblecore except it has none of the sloppiness that has hampered those efforts.
So let's be clear, any bright straight guy interested in good films has to stow his childish squirminess about watching dudes kiss and plunk down some cash to support this movie. If you don't then you forfeit any right to complain when the multiplexes are filled with nothing but Garry Marshall movies named after holidays.