Written & Directed by: Andrew Haigh
Year Released: 2011
My Rating: 5/5 stars
What It's About/Why I Watched It:
Sarah saw this movie and recommended it to me so highly that I bought a copy from Criterion Collection. She and I share a love of Indie dramas, and this film offered so much of what we love about that genre, especially complex, flawed characters and natural, believable dialogue and performances.
After spending an evening with his best friend Jamie, Russell heads to a gay nightclub. He ends up with Glen, his hook-up for the night. Then there's the awkward moment when they wake up in the morning, having been intimate but still total strangers.
Glen has an unusual artistic project in the works, gathering interviews with other gay men about their sexual experiences. He wants Russell to contribute his version of their night together, and Glen doesn't hesitate to ask direct, provocative questions. They end up spending the weekend together, and they gradually forge a deeper connection.
Russell, who still has one foot in the closet with his straight friends, is uncomfortable with public displays of affection. Glen could be described aggressively open about his sexuality. He is understandably frustrated by the challenges faced by the gay community. He also has a bit of a chip on his shoulder and uses his anger to shield his fragility. And having been deeply hurt in a previous relationship, Glen is terrified of commitment. During the course of their encounter, both men have their vulnerable points exposed and challenged.
The relationships we see in books and movies are sometimes cute and slickly packaged. And oddly one night stands, after some awkward but humorous dialogue and a few wrong turns, often lead to lasting love. Talk about false advertising.
In real life, relationships tend to be awkward, messy, and difficult. Since I've been in a monogamous relationship virtually all my adult
life, I wouldn't blame you if you accused me of not being an expert on
the subject. But that's my story, and I'm sticking to it. There are false starts, weird, tense conversations, and moments of tentative affection, playfulness, and euphoric connection. People flounder -- is this too much too soon? Should I walk away? Did I not show I cared enough? Did I show I cared too much?
One reason this film worked for me was the way it captured those aspects of a budding relationship. The tentative bond between Russell and Glen is, at turns, funny, tender, raw, passionate, out of sync, messy, awkward, and a bit nuts.
This film maker deftly avoided the cliches I see in most movie romances and avoided letting this become a "gay movie." Sure, their sexuality, and the challenges that go along with it, is an integral part of who they are. Isn't that true of all of us? But this isn't a film you can conveniently pigeonhole as being about one particular group of people. It's a story about the challenges of being human, reaching out for intimacy, trying to protect oneself from being wounded, and longing to heal one's wounds.
Bottom Line: A beautiful movie offering one of my favorite attributes of films: thoughtful character studies and cinematic realism that was so real I felt a bit like a voyeur.
Viewer Discretion Advised: Because of the graphic nature of the conversations in this film, it obviously isn't family friendly fare.
You might also want to know there are several sex scenes that leave
little to the imagination. They fit seamlessly in the movie, and I think
they work beautifully. But I realize that, for some viewers, this is
just TMI. Or it might sweeten the deal. Whichever. :-)
A Note About the Ending (Spoilers):
One reason I hate so many romantic movies is that I don't like seeing characters forced into some sort of epiphany nobody's ready for so we can have a trademark happy ending. Kudos to Andrew Haigh for giving us an ending that's unresolved and messy but still emotionally gratifying.
The end of the film was sweet and romantic, with both Russell and Glen having a little bit of a road to Damascus. But even if Glen weren't, y'know, leaving the country, I don't see this relationship ever holding up over the long haul. These young men have a lot of issues, not the least of which is all the substance abuse we saw throughout the film -- I had a hangover and a contact high from watching this, and that's not even counting the cocaine. :-)
I also suspect neither is ready for a long-term commitment. And I think that's O.K.
On the other hand, I suspect there will continue to be some sort of bond between them. Fond memories? Friendship? Eventually, a real relationship? Who knows? They experienced moments of real connection, and in some ways, it was healing for both of them. Nobody was "fixed" but there's something to celebrate there. Often, that's as good as it gets.