One of the things that separates Dirty Weekend, a new comedy out Sept. 4, from its peers in the "guy cheats on his wife, feels guilty about it" genre is that in this case, Les (Matthew Broderick) isn't the only character hiding something huge. In fact, his secret may not even be the movie's biggest; his co-worker, Natalie (Alice Eve), is keeping the fact that she's a BDSM-practicing lesbian from, well, pretty much everyone, considering that she feels the need to hide the collar her girlfriend makes her wear under a turtleneck at all times. If she doesn't, she explains in the film, she's afraid that her girlfriend will find out and that said girlfriend would be enraged as a result.
"[Their relationship is] almost an abusive situation," Eve says of her character's relationship. She adds, though, that she believes Natalie is "a very strong woman, who maybe has some knocks along the way," and throughout the film, viewers see this exemplified; Natalie's hesitancy to argue with her girlfriend is contradictory to her generally formidable demeanor.
Unlike many Hollywood films, Dirty Weekend puts its LGBT characters — especially those who are women — in the spotlight, and treats them with total respect. Although Natalie's sexual orientation isn't completely hidden from Les — he knows she's a lesbian, and witnesses her flirting with another woman — she doesn't reveal the nature of her relationship, and the rules and regulations that come with it, right away. That only occurs once the co-workers have gotten to know each other much better — which happens fairly quickly, considering they spend the movie stuck in Albuquerque together after their flight is delayed. During their time stranded, the two swap stories and share secrets; Les tells Natalie that he once had an affair, possibly with a man, and in turn, Natalie tells Les about her strict, often-suffocating romance.
"She doesn’t know how much she is struggling," Eve says. "She’s become a person that maybe, from the outside, she wouldn’t want to be... [she's] not liberated as a human."
Yet thanks in part to her friendship with Les, exemplified in the exclusive clip above, Natalie begins to see the flaws in her relationship, and realizes that a change might be necessary. Throughout the film, both she and Les attempt to figure out their respective problems, and help each other take important next steps; for Les, Natalie encourages him to track down the mysterious person he had a drunken encounter with a year earlier, and for Natalie, Les expresses concern about her relationship, and gently pushes her to be more of her own person.
"There’s nothing romantic between them, and it’s nice that there’s a purity to it," says Eve. "It's a buddy movie, in a way."
To make their characters' relationship as realistic as possible, Eve and Broderick went into a "bubble," she says, in which they embodied their characters practically 24/7 both on- and off-set and forged a connection "quite quickly." Says the actress, "I knew we needed to have a trust to go through this journey."
Ironically enough, much of the duo's bonding occurred on a delayed flight out to Albuquerque, during which time Eve borrowed her co-star's jacket to sleep on, a move she jokes "broke the ice." During their weeks-long shoot, they got to know each other well, and their friendship grew to be not unlike that of their characters; Eve says that Broderick is "a very, very funny person" who "can keep a straight face in scenarios you can’t even imagine anyone could."
Eve credits the environment created by director Neil LaBute (In The Company of Men) with helping the actors find such a natural connection. LaBute, who has had a lengthy career as a playwright in addition to his work as a film director, gave his stars plenty of space "to be creative," says Eve.
"I think the environment Neil creates is one that you really do just fall into who you’re being," she says. "You’re really out there, pushing, and every night you’re learning."
The dialogue-heavy script and play-like atmosphere made Dirty Weekend quite a challenge ("it’s more pressure, more time, more engagement," says Eve), but she says it was a worthwhile experience, especially considering the relevance of the issues explored in the movie to today's society.
"It’s so of our time, having a struggle, [trying] to find and reconcile yourself with your true identity," she says. "Working all these things out for ourselves is the journey of life, and I suspect it’s made a little bit harder by... society’s pressure to just be true to yourself."
For Natalie, much of that pressure comes from herself, to be the girlfriend her partner wants her to be. It's a testament to the movie that its LGBT characters are treated with as much nuance and complexity as its straight characters, something that tends to be rare in film; of 114 major studio releases in 2014, only 20 contained LGBT characters, according to a study by GLAAD. In Dirty Weekend, both Natalie's frustration with her relationship (and the decisions she makes, as a result) and Les' efforts to figure out his sexuality feel weighty and important. At the same time, though, neither character's sexual orientation, especially Natalie's, is made an "issue" in any way, but simply a fact of their characters.
"It’s not even about the journey of her sexual orientation," says Eve. "It’s a journey in that she wants to find her true love, and if that’s the one she’s in, and she can change the relationship to make it work, she’ll do that."
It's an empowering statement, and one of many reasons that Dirty Weekend stands apart from the pack for how well it does by its female and LGBT characters.
Image: eOne Entertainment