We're so trained to watch romantic movies that are of the dreaded rom-com variety—with its silly conventions, outlandish plots, and preternaturally good-looking people—that seeing something that is familiar and real is not only shocking and disorienting, but really rewarding. Weekend is a movie just like that.
A favorite at South by Southwest (yes, they do more than bands and boring Twitter panels), director Andrew Haigh's Weekend starts out simply enough, with Russell, a working-class British guy, getting stoned and going to a friend's house for dinner. Things pick up when he stops by a bar on the way home and picks up another guy, Glen. The next time we see them, they're lying in bed half-naked the morning after smelling of stale lube and regret, and Glen is pressuring Russell into describing their hookup in detail for some sort of art project he's working on. They awkwardly exchange numbers before Glen heads off and Russell goes to work as a lifeguard a local pool. It seems like it will just be another one of those tricks that fade away into nothingness, another one of those people with no last name cluttering up your contacts list.
But it doesn't. Russell texts Glen who meets him after work and they end up spending the whole weekend together, developing a nascent relationship and falling in love. But we know from the onset that Glen is leaving at the end of the weekend, moving to America to pursue his artistic dreams and the hope of living openly without people yelling insults at him in public.
That doesn't make what happens between them any less beautiful. It's sweet and tender as it is real, with the pair staying up all night talking and arguing and doing a bunch of lines and having (rather graphic) sex. This is what real life is like: messy, mundane, and devoid of the silly pretension of the Katherine Heigl cannon. So many people have had this experience, a torrid and doomed affair, that it's practically universal.
Yes, it barely matters that this is a "gay movie," but both lovers being male is also central to the way it works. Russell is out of the closet but reserved, afraid to talk to his friends about his relationships and wary of public displays of affection. Glen is the opposite, a bit of an activist who shouts down the people who make homophobic remarks on the street, threatening to "rape their holes." At one point, Glen asks if Russell is going to make a grand romantic gesture at the train station, like in Notting Hill. Russell says if he did everyone would clap. Glen responds, "They'd either clap or throw us in front of the train."
The two men have the same anxieties about being gay but coming from different directions, Russell from the inside and Glen from the outside. They both are trying to correct this dissonance through connection with other men and aggressively documenting their sexual encounters. They are the product of the Facebook generation, jotting it down or else it never happened.
This is a modern gay movie, with the woes of coming out and AIDS far in the background and no one having to be a martyr like in Brokeback Mountain or Milk. Everything is normalized but it still isn't comfortable, with men combating not only with acceptance but also the ennui of perpetual Grindr hookups. But it is also a modern movie, devoid of the usual Hollywood trappings and instead creating something moving and deep out of snappy dialogue, real life situations, and brilliant performances (Tom Cullen, who plays Russell, deserves an Oscar for his "I just got a dick in my butt" face alone).
Whether you're gay or straight, in love or fallen out of it, you can't escape the truth of what is happening between these two men in one little apartment. Falling into their fully-formed world is the perfect way to spend a weekend, and I can't recommend it enough.