Love and marriage go through the ringer during a bittersweet anniversary trip to Paris
Directed by Roger Michell
Cast: Lindsay Duncan, Jim Broadbent, Jeff Goldblum
The amount of relaxation and pleasure one derives from a vacation is inversely proportional to the amount of fatigue and discomfort one must endure in order to achieve it. Despite what we imagine while thumbing through exotic brochures, travel is a chore. And the close quarters of planes, trains, automobiles and hotel rooms can quickly turn loved ones into combatants. Le Week-End, the knowingly microcosmic new drama-comedy from director Roger Michell (Changing Lanes, Notting Hill, Venus) and writer Hanif Kureishi (My Beautiful Laundrette, Sammy and Rosie Get Laid, My Son the Fanatic) understands this fact all too well.
Middle-class British couple Meg (Lindsay Duncan from Under the Tuscan Sun and “Rome”) and Nick (Jim Broadbent from Bridget Jones’s Diary and Topsy-Turvy) have been married for 30 years. In an attempt to rekindle the ol’ flame, they decide to spend their wedding anniversary in Paris. From the start it doesn’t look like this expedition is going to bear fruit. Checking into the now ramshackle little hotel where they honeymooned doesn’t exactly put the couple in a romantic mood. “It’s beige,” grouses Meg. “There is a certain light-brownness about it,” concedes Nick. Fed up already Meg hops into a taxi cab and checks them into a gorgeous hotel, far out of their price range.
The suggestion of a sexual interlude leads to a scene of Nick and Meg huffing and puffing—as they make their arthritic way up the steps to Montmartre. These two have been married so long they’ve worn a groove into one another. They know what makes the other happy. But they also know what drives the other crazy. One moment they’re unleashing their pent-up fury on one another; the next they’re cavorting happily. One scene they’re exposing each other’s weaknesses; the next they’re kissing passionately. Do they love each other? Probably. Are they sick of one another? Equally likely.
As our couple bicker, commiserate, admit failure, lob accusations, reminisce and make wishes for the future, Le Week-End plays out like some bitter, retirement-age antipode to Richard Linklater’s Vienna-set romantic talker Before Sunrise. Nick is the more conservative and emotionally needy of the two, a longtime, self-doubting professor of philosophy in Birmingham. Meg, on the other hand, is more free-willed and temperamental. At 64, she’s strongly entertaining ideas of dropping her job and her husband and starting all over. Mix in some slowly accruing background details (money woes, job troubles and a go-nowhere son) and you start to realize where these two are coming from. Though it all sounds rather grim, Le Week-End rides its emotions like a Ferris wheel. One moment it’s painfully honest, the next it’s wistfully passionate, the next it’s simply resigned to sit immobile while new people climb on board. Much credit goes to Duncan and Broadbent, who give incredibly lived-in performances. This is how intelligent, sophisticated, inevitably unfulfilled human beings act in real life.
Thankfully the film also has moments of wit. Many of them arrive when costar Jeff Goldblum shows up as an old family friend who crosses the couple’s path by chance. Goldblum plays Morgan, an unctuous, overly gregarious author who has dumped his wife, married a woman half his age and run off to Paris to hang out with artists and writers. He’s a walking, talking billboard for mid-life crisis. And whether he’s happy or deluded (it’s hard to say which), he serves as a wake-up call for Meg and Nick.
Le Week-End offers up no easy answers or quick fixes to life, love and longtime relationships. Perhaps it’s inevitable that Meg and Nick will break up. It happens, even late in life. Then again, it’s equally likely they’ll stay together forever, alternately loving and resenting one another until they die. Not even the film’s ending gives it away. It features a playful and quite lovely riff on Jean-Luc Godard’s Bande a Part, but it still leaves us guessing.
Bitter and sweet in near equal measure, Le Week-End is a modest but deeply penetrating look at the compromises of marriage. It may be one of the more jaded love stories to take place in the City of Lights, but it’s also one of the most realistic.
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