The whirl-wind romance is a notion that has, for the most part, fallen under the cinematic purview of cliched romantic comedies, and idealistic Disney-esque creations. As a result, the intense emotions anguish-inducing interactions that such entanglements can involve have rarely gotten their fair share of screen time. A reversal of this trend is one of the many qualities that makes Andrew Haigh’s Weekend, recently screened as part of Montreal’s Image+Nation Film Festival, so unique and powerful. The film follows the story of Russell (Tom Cullen) and Glen (Chris New), whose meeting at a bar begins an intense journey of sexual and emotional intimacy that spans all of one weekend.
While the story itself sounded worthwhile, it was the palpable buzz surrounding the film that brought me down to the Concordia campus to see Weekend. After all, a movie that has collected awards and nominations at the likes of the South by Southwest Film Conference and Festival is not to be missed. This same hype is simultaneously an important indicator of the film’s representation of queer cinema.
Of course, this isn’t the first film with a queer narrative that has garnered mainstream attention, Brokeback Mountain and Milk received Oscars. Both of these examples, however, approach homosexuality in historical, and highly dramatized, contexts. As a result, the relationships they portray feel removed from quotidian contemporary life. It’s much rarer to see widespread critical accolades for a film that presents same sex relations in a generally unexceptional light.
This is not to say that Weekend is completely devoid of the particular Hollywood tropes of a plot centered on homosexual interactions. There were, of course, meditations on the significance of the coming out process, as well as a rather standard binary between a character who is comfortable with his sexuality and one who is less so. However, as an audience member, none of these felt like the focal point of the film. Rather, the key element seemed to be the simple narrative of two individuals navigating the tenuous trails of intimacy and attachment.
It’s this realistic story line that, for me, was the film’s strong suit. So often, the queer representations I have seen in film, and other media, seem exceedingly distant from my own queer experience. If I had a dime for every time I’ve watched Will & Grace and felt perplexed, alienated, and perhaps a little insulted… Well, you get the picture. I felt a refreshing ability to relate to the characters and, in several instances, found that the film’s scenarios came surprisingly close to instances from my own life.
The notable realism of the narrative was accentuated by the films cinematographic and directorial style. The distinct rawness of the aesthetic enhanced the everyday nature of the plot line. The dialogue, too, was highly naturalistic, and the nuances of Cullen and New’s performances were laudable.
While the film’s realism was unquestionably a large part of its appeal, and represents a positive change in the positioning of queer cinema, it also beckons the question of what responsibility queer filmmakers actually have. The film’s level-handed representation of a queer narrative shows a new comfort with same sex relationships as a normalized part of society. However, with this acceptance also comes the risk of apathy. Real stories about lived experience are certainly important, but can also make it easy to forget that these are the stories of groups who are, in many cases, still marginalized.