During a lecture in grad school, my cinematography professor argued that a successful movie imperceptibly transports viewers into its world, and then “returns the audience to their seats” when it draws to a close. Ideally, it wouldn't have any issues that could distract viewers from the experience, which I'll call a movie's "potholes."
With that thought in mind, let’s take a look at Weekend. I recently showed it to my boyfriend, Che, because it’s the best film in the world about a gay romance. (I even splurged and bought the lovely Criterion Blu-ray.)
But almost immediately, Che spotted a problem. The film’s protagonist, Russell, is a semi-closeted, 20-something-year-old lifeguard living in the Midlands. Che’s brother is a lifeguard, so he knows what a lifeguard’s salary is. How could Russell afford to live in a nice, one-bedroom apartment? Wouldn’t it make more sense if he had roommates or lived in a complete shithole?
I was bothered by the consistently haphazard focus pulling, which the filmmakers should have noticed while watching dailies and fixed on-set. But frankly, Che was bothered about the right kind of pothole. Russell’s apartment is too nice, which punctures the movie’s premise — a bit like Goldfinger accidentally decompressing Pussy Galore’s jet.
That said, Weekend works in spite of these issues because the elements that truly matter, work extremely well: the actors and the script.
Tom Cullen and Chris New’s performances are once-in-a-lifetime marvels. Both Che and I became teary-eyed at certain points, and I’d be shocked if the filmmakers recording their interactions weren’t also affected.
The script is also a marvel. Bill Hader once said that The Venture Bros. episodes are so tightly written, “you can bounce a ball off them.” (This partly explains why each season takes at least two years to make. Ah well.) Andrew Haigh’s script is also carefully written, and has a wisely limited scope. The time frame: a weekend. Characters: Two, plus a couple of peripheral friends. Locations: Russell’s apartment; gay club; public pool; train station.
As Haigh says in an extra segment on the Blu-ray, he wanted the characters and locations to be as specific as possible, so their experiences would be more universal for viewers living outside the Midlands. Haigh seems to understand that the actors and the story are at the heart of a movie. The rest is icing on the cake.
I would prioritize these elements in a movie, in order of decreasing importance. The further down the list, the less the potholes matter.
- Actors (to win over viewers)
- Script (to sustain viewers' interest over the course of the entire movie)
- Sound (a single mistake often indicates future potholes)
- Cinematography (to tell and enhance the characters' story; "normal" people can ignore most deficiencies in this regard if the above elements are working)