If you’ve been anywhere near a gay magazine or blog since 2011, it is unlikely you’ll have been able to miss the quiet phenomenon that is Weekend. No, I’m not talking about the nightmarish French language film by Jean-Luc Godard, but rather the bittersweet gay love story that picked up a healthy handful of awards and nominations when it hit the festival circuit and captured the hearts of gay men up and down the country.
The rapturous reception that Weekend enjoyed can be attributed to a number of factors. Firstly, Andrew Haigh’s writing and direction were spot-on. Secondly, the two lead performances were in turn charming, disarming and highly affecting (and it didn’t hurt that both Tom Cullen and Chris New are incredibly easy on the eye). Thirdly though, and most importantly for the purposes of this article, queer audiences had been starved of high quality gay film-making for so long that they leapt on this little gem with admirable gusto. It is, after all, a sad fact that most gay films these days, especially the indie ones, tend to be more than a little bit shit.
If you put A-list studio fare like Brokeback Mountain and Milk aside, I doubt you could find more than a handful of gay themed films that can be viewed without many a cringe or an eye-roll. There are the camp classics like The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything! Julie Newmar which appeal to the drag queen in all of us, and there are the grainy and dated but much-loved Nineties flicks like Beautiful Thing and My Beautiful Laundrette. If you’re a slightly more adventurous film-lover, you’ve also got boundary-pushing, polarising fare such as John Cameron Mitchell’s Shortbus or pretty much anything by Derek Jarman.
But then there’s the dross. And I think you know exactly what I mean. The supposed romantic comedies which neither tickle the funny bone nor tug on the heartstrings, but rather induce a vague sense of nausea and a pang of envy that your abs are nowhere near as defined as the pretty-but-wooden actor on-screen. Offenders include Is It Just Me?, eCupid, Slutty Summer, Make The Yuletide Gay, and Buffering. There are however the occasional offerings which promise at least a hint of wit; Another Gay Movie and Eating Out were genuinely funny, irreverent parodies of mainstream sex comedies, echoing the cheeky high jinx of American Pie, but even they devolved into tacky franchises that would make the Carry On films look like high art.
Bizarrely though, despite the questionable acting, shoddy editing and fact that they have obviously been made on a shoestring budget, there is a guarantee that these films are going to be seen. Being made exclusively for a niche audience creates a sense of obligation, and no matter how unimpressive the work, it is almost certain to work its way into your “People Also Bought…” list on Amazon. And so you buy it, and watch it, and feel utterly let down, but by then it’s too late. “Yes, we know it’s crap,” all these films seem to be saying, “but what else are you going to watch?”
But that could be about to change. Weekend raised the bar, and I have a feeling that gay audiences will be less likely to indulge mediocre film-making now that they’ve had a taste of the real thing. This year’s contender for the gay art-house crown is Keep The Lights On, an American drama following a complex, troubled couple through the years – think Blue Valentine for homos. Here’s hoping that we can look forward to more of the same in the future.