Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Weekend.


Weekend (Andrew Haigh, 2011)

Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions. November 4. John Jeopardy sad blog. Hipster glasses. Gay?

Category: Sad gay film. Ahh the gays. True friends of the blog, one and all. They’ve have had it rough in the past (Stonewall, the Defense of Marriage Act, the rise of Rick Santorum), but things are certainly improving (the end of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, an increasing number of states legalizing gay marriage, the rise of santorum). There’s still a ways to go, of course. This is reflected in modern gay cinema, which as a genre is pretty much dominated by sad films. Such films include Longtime Companion, Philadelphia, and Boys Don’t Cry, covered by this blog what feels like ages ago. (The blog doesn’t remember things as well as it used to, kids.)

It has become far more common for films with overtly gay themes to become mainstream successes (Milk and Brokeback Mountain are two recent examples). BLOG THEORY: gay love stories inherently possess the extra level of societal pressure that conventional straight love stories often lack, and as such have become more popular in recent years. Back in the day, people could write love stories between people of different social classes, or different races, or different warring families, and it was realistic to the times. As our society grows more and more permissive (I hate that word), gay is kind of the last frontier.

This is also a sad British film. It’s often quite gray and foggy over there in the UK, which doesn’t help the national mood. Add to that the fact that they used to run the world and now do not run the world, and you’ve got a country filled with malaise. But they’re good at hiding it. Keep a stiff upper lip, ol’ chap, etc etc.

My familiarity with this issue: We’ve talked about my love for the gays in the blog before. I am also quite the Anglophile. You’ll scarcely find a straight American with a greater affinity for the gays and the Brits. I am the president of my local chapter of the Graham Norton Fan Club.

I believe that Weekend is another of these low-budget realistic independent sad films (much like Blue Valentine), the ones with the hand-held camerawork and gritty imagery and all of that. I support films like these, basically any movie that can break through the big-studio monopoly and secure a wide release. But they do run the risk of being pretentious. BOTB Tony Krizel famously referred to Blue Valentine as “hipster gosling ukelule blue collar feelings bs.” Worst-case scenario, this film will be that + explicit gay sex. (Oh yeah there’s explicit gay sex in the film too. Goody!)

This film is currently in theatres and was chosen to honor the blog’s commitment to topicality. I went to see the film with a friend of the blog who, for several reasons, will remain anonymous in this post. (If you’re dying to know who he is, here’s a picture of him.) This Mystery Homosexual FOTB will provide a gay perspective on the film that I personally lack.

Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: “On a Friday night after a drunken house party with his straight mates, Russell heads out to a gay club, alone and on the pull. Just before closing time he picks up Glen but what's expected to be just a one-night stand becomes something else, something special. That weekend, in bars and in bedrooms, getting drunk and taking drugs, telling stories and having sex, the two men get to know each other.”

What the Mystery Homosexual FOTB thought of the movie: In keeping with the necessity of keeping his identity a secret, the MHFOTB's voice syntax and appearance font have been altered. For further security, certain portions have been redacted.

I walked away from this film telling John that I knew it was “great,” but I couldn't figure out exactly what it was that made it so good. I am still having that problem, but a couple points stand out. First, this movie is an almost perfect retelling of a weekend as you would remember it. Think about what you did last weekend, or the weekend before, or the weekend before or some other weekend. You will find you don't remember everything (unless, of course, you are an elephant), but certain parts of the time stick out in your mind. That's true for this movie, and in a way that makes so much sense it's hard to describe. Whoever edited this script did a great job. 

One of the reasons I really wanted to see this movie was because it didn't appear to me to be a movie about being gay, but which had gay characters. Everybody made a fuss about Brokeback Mountain (probably because of its star-power), but honestly, that was a “gay movie,” whereas this is just a movie. There is nothing wrong with a “gay movie,” but it's good to see any movie that has great gay characters and deals with other things. Weekend is a movie about how two people met and fell in love, and that was the story. No one was going through an identity crisis, or about to come out to  their parents, or wearing glitter. These were just two dudes blokes.

The blokes also had real conversations, and the dialogue was hugely authentic – especially the gay dialogue. You might be thinking, “wait a minute, you just said...” and you are right. (Also, shut up.) Even though the movie wasn't about the tragedy of being gay, or whatever you want to call it, it very accurately portrayed the gay conversations gay couples have when they gay talk about being gay. Glen is a real firecracker, and says things like “don't feed into the system” and is angry about the place of gay people in society. He worries that, even when we have “rights,” we will still be a sideshow no one wants to discuss, and never will. He also compliments American gays for fighting for their rights. (U-S-A! U-S-A!) Russ is more subdued, less angry. This is a source of some tension between them, and it can be a source of tension between the gay couple nearest you. I know it's a source of tension between this MHFOTB and the BFOTMHFOTB (a more immediate source of tension is probably me using that joke...). (Editor's Note: I'm sure the pictures helped, though.) Displaying an authentic conversation between a couple is never a stereotype, and I appreciated how these conversations were handled.

The weakest point of the film for me was how at some parts Glen’s character is a little bit of a wannabe starving artist type, an over-angsty, manipulative drama queen (no pun intended). It makes the profound speed with which Russ and Glen grow close a little implausible. I overcame my concerns for Glen’s behavior, because it's clear Russ has his concerns too, but falls for Glen anyway. Also some of Glen’s anger apparently comes from a previous relationship that ended badly, and a fairly implausible and arbitrary plot point that I will not reveal here. But as frustrating as I found Glen, there were still redeeming moments. Somehow I believe, perhaps because Russ believed (and this is really his story) that the rough edges and emotional distance wasn't an original part of Glen, and the rest of it (the angst and manipulation) was fading as the weekend progressed.

I also don't know how I feel about the sex scenes. All movies have them, so why not a gay film? But it's tenderness and reality were a little bold, and led John to ask if that’s even how it works. (Editor’s Note: Yes, this conversation happened. Don't worry about it.) My main problem was that they went on a little long, but perhaps I'm just not used to watching such explicitly and blatantly gay material in a theatre with mixed (gay and muggle) company. 

As I said before, I am still trying to sort out my feelings on this. But I know I will see this movie again and I know it's good. You should too, but not because it's gay – just because it's good

What I thought of the movie: First, let me agree with most, if not all, of what the MHFOTB said. (And thank goodness that I do, because otherwise this point would be wayyy too long, rather than its current status of “wayy too long.”) I’ll second his theory that calling Weekend a “gay film” is kind of missing the point. (Although to be fair, the theatre in which we saw the film gave new meaning to the term “Motown.”) The thing about really good movies is that they don’t really have a target audience. It’s not that great movies are for everyone, it’s that they can resonate with multiple groups of people. I am not gay, and I am not British, but what this movie had to say about relationships and random hookups and all of that resonated with me, and could resonate with anyone, not just shiftless underemployed “men” in their mid-twenties like me.

I would also concur with the MHFOTB about the seeming authenticity of the conversations that the characters have, even when they are discussing the more hot-button gay issues of the day. Whenever two people talk about bigger social issues, what they say always has more to do with themselves (their personalities and experiences and all that) than what the issues are objectively about. Weekend does an excellent job of not only capturing that fact during the conversations, but also of giving us just enough information and context to interpret and evaluate each character’s views, as we would if two of our friends were arguing about something.

How I, John Krizel, related to the movie: The main takeaway of the movie for me is how realistic it is in depicting the process of getting to know someone. Whenever you meet someone new (and I’m not just talking about potentially romantic meetings here), you have to quickly and usually-not-entirely-consciously decide how to present yourself to this new person. You have to answer, with your words and actions and manner, a hundred questions in a really short period of time: how much to reveal about yourself, what specific things to talk about, what things are important or impressive or significant about you and how many of these things are you going to casually reveal right away, how honest you’re going to be, how much you’re actually going to say what you feel, etc. At the same time, you’re also judging everything they say and how they act and all that. And so for a lot of people (me) there is a great deal of uncertainty that comes with every social interaction you have with a new person. And then, once you start actually getting to know that person, it only gets more and more complex and scary and weird and, when I think about it for too long, makes me want to never leave the house.

Weekend made me appreciate this process more than any other film I can remember seeing. It’s an unadorned, unvarnished, unassuming depiction of how two people meet and get to know each other one weekend. That is all it aspires to be, really, and it succeeds remarkably well at it. With only one exception (which the MHFOTB alluded to earlier), it sets up a scenario and lets the drama appear, organically, from the circumstances of that scenario. We are privy to the walls that the two characters have put up to defend themselves emotionally, and we are privy to the crumbling of said walls. It's neat.

How I felt after the movie ended: And so, like the MHFOTB (at right), I was really taken by the whole movie. It’s one of those great “nothing happens” movies. It put me in mind of Lost in Translation, and if I’d seen Before Sunrise, it would probably remind me of that too. Lots of talking, and more talking, and occasional drug use and gay sex, but mostly talking. So I’d encourage all straight FsOTB to see the film, and to bring along (mystery) gay friends as well. Not just because it's a good movie, but also so that they can explain just what’s going on in certain parts of the film. It will not be awkward at all.

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