Twentysomething Russell (Tom Cullen) lives, alone and a bit dolefully, on the 14th floor of a Nottingham high-rise. He works as a lifeguard at the local pool and drags himself out one Friday night to dinner with friends, but his heart’s not in it. He’s gay and looking for companionship, which he finds at a club later on, clapping eyes on Glen (Chris New). They go back to Russell’s. Relationships start this way everywhere in the developed world every day. They end this way, too.
The film is Weekend, written, directed and edited by Andrew Haigh, and it’s nakedly truthful but also graceful in its construction. We wake up for morning coffee and piece together a night of unseen drunken sex. Only once we’ve got to know these two better does the film itself gain their intimacy, giving us long, tender, funny scenes of flirting and pillow talk. When they fool around again, it’s emotionally intense.
The actors, both newcomers to film, create remarkably complete, distinct people who crackle in each other’s company. Russell, played with such vulnerability and detail by Cullen, is a dreamy orphan, out only to his close friends, and too embarrassed to tell them about his love life. Glen is angrier, more extrovert but hardly less troubled: New has hilarious timing, but he’s far too smart an actor to showboat or just go for queeny laughs.
Haigh’s film is written with a shrewd, unpretentious feel for the way young people behave when they’re getting to know each other, shot with a keen eye for urban solitude, and completely nails its seemingly modest tasks: frank talk about the challenges and politics of growing up gay, which never underlines itself or comes crashing down on us as a message. It could all be beautifully thought out and still not work without the chemistry and ignition the actors provide. They’re so persuasive as a couple that the future – which poses one huge problem – quivers as they discuss it. Their bond hangs in the balance, but the film’s pure human warmth radiates long after you’ve left.