Two lads hook up for a drunken shag and then spend the weekend going deeper into each other’s thoughts and feelings. Early on, the outgoing one (Chris New) tells the loner (Tom Cullen) that he’s preparing an art project on post-coital confessions, and that probably only gay boys will attend hoping to see a bit of genitalia (that’s not how he puts it). This may be a self-conscious reference to the film. This movie has developed a reputation for frank sex scenes, so let’s disappoint those hoping for the queer equivalent of Nine Songs or Intimacy. This ain’t it. (Well, there’s always Shortbus.) Truer to British discretion, the sex here is “tasteful”. You’ll just have to get your jollies from the passionate and intelligent discussions, the lengthy takes, the details of milieu, and the moments of poetic minimalism.
This movie’s most radical contribution to contemporary drama isn’t that these characters get away with being gay, but that they spend the movie doing quite a lot of drugs—pot, alcohol, cocaine—with no ill fall-out or karmic punishment. (Is all this stuff cheaper in England or do these guys have a lot of disposable income?) In an extra on the Criterion disc, writer-director Andrew Haigh states that he’s surprised at how much audiences make of all the drug scenes; he must have been talking to Americans. He also speculates that audiences might not notice it so much in a movie about a heterosexual couple, and there we must disabuse his delusion.
Yanks understand movies by mainstream Hollywood, and in that fabled realm, any casual drug use is restricted to scumbag villains or comic relief stoners, with perhaps an “edgy” scene in a buddy comedy. The handsome romantic leading couples don’t even smoke cigarettes anymore, much less score illegal stuff—unless it’s to chronicle their downward spiral into wasted junkies who shoot up in bathrooms and jump out windows. If Haigh imagines anyone in the U.S. could dream of showing Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan snorting coke, or Jennifer Aniston passing a spliff to Ryan Philippe without a major cultural brouhaha, he just doesn’t live on this side of the pond. Americans go to movies about a teen girl who can’t decide whether to date a vampire or a werewolf, but she’d never go to a party where they were smoking weed because that would be beyond the pale.