This week in movies you missed: a gay romance that transcends categories, and one of the most acclaimed movies of 2011.
What You Missed
It starts as a one-night stand. Russell (Tom Cullen), a burly, quiet lifeguard, thinks Glen (Chris New), a wiry, volatile art student, is "out of his league." They meet at a bar and go to Russell's place and, the next morning, they start talking.
At first, Glen is just recording Russell's impressions of their hookup for a very conceptual art project he's doing. But over the course of one weekend, the two young men get to know each other well.
Ostensibly, they don't have much in common. Russell is out, but only to his close friends. Glen is prone to getting in shouting matches with homophobic strangers. Russell, who grew up in foster care, believes in long-term relationships. Glen "doesn't do boyfriends." Yet each man clearly finds something he needs in the other. We watch their intimacy grow, wondering: Does it have a future?
Why You Missed It
This film from UK director Andrew Haigh was a big festival hit. Widest release: 26 U.S. theaters, none here.
Should You Keep Missing It?
It is very, very hard to make a scintillating film about two people falling in love that is just about that and doesn't involve any of the standard rom-com plot contrivances.
Case in point: Falling Overnight, a film with a Vermont connection that was released on DVD last week. Like Weekend, it's about two people developing great intimacy in a short time span (one night/one weekend), with an external circumstance that threatens their relationship adding bittersweet urgency to the encounter.
Both films are well acted and naturalistic, spurning those infernal "meet cute" situations and dialogue. Both use beautifully filmed urban settings to create dreamy moods that suggest the haze of initial infatuation. (Weekend takes place in Nottingham, UK, in the springtime, with gorgeous cinematography from Urszula Pontikos.)
The vital difference between the two films is that Weekend has fleshed-out characters who talk about real stuff. The lovers in Falling Overnight are written so vaguely and generically that anyone can project him- or herself onto them. But Glen and Russell feel like real people. They have ugly personality traits as well as winsome ones, and over the course of the weekend, they show each other both.
One of the "real things" they talk about is their sexuality — a point of vulnerability for Russell, who clearly isn't as comfortable with it as he'd like to be. When he's in public, the camera keeps its distance from him, so we get a sense of how he recoils from his sometimes-hostile environment. When he's in his flat with Glen, the camera pulls in close, reinforcing the intimacy.
These techniques were part of the plan, as Haigh discusses in a featurette on the Criterion disc. (He also talks about why he chose a female cinematographer, why he shot in sequence and whether it mattered to cast gay actors.)
Verdict: At one point, Glen bemoans the likely reception of his art project about gay sex. Straight people will stay away, he says, while gay men will be disappointed when they don't "see any cocks."
That could be a sly comment about Weekend itself. (It has on-screen drug use and sex, no full-frontal nudity.) But don't stay away. I wish more movies about romance and relationships — straight, gay, polyamorous, what have you — were as honest and memorable as this one.
Other New Releases You May Have Missed
- Bernie (recommended for dark comedy fans)
- "Endeavour" (Shaun Evans as a younger version of Inspector Morse)
- Freelancers (Robert DeNiro, Forest Whitaker and 50 Cent in a drama about rogue cops in the NYPD)
- Hell (Someone is surviving the end of the world. Again!)
- Never Stand Still: Dancing at Jacob's Pillow (dance doc)
- Pina Bausch: Dancing Dreams (ditto)
- Post Mortem (black-comic drama about life during the Chilean military coup from Pablo Larrain, who made Tony Manero)
- A Separation
- Virginia (Jennifer Connelly plays a single mom having an affair with a Mormon sheriff in a provocative small-town drama from Milk screenwriter Dustin Lance Black)
Each week in "Movies You Missed," I review a brand-new DVD release picked for me by Seth Jarvis, buyer for Burlington's Waterfront Video, where you can obtain these fine films. (In central Vermont, try Downstairs Video.)