A melancholy soundtrack sets the appropriate tone for this reflective comedy-drama about a British couple—Nick (Jim Broadbent) and Meg (Lindsay Duncan) — spending their 30th anniversary in Paris. The perceptive script by Hanif Kureishi (My Beautiful Laundrette) insists that people “can love and hate the same person, usually within the space of five minutes.” Le Week-End proves this theory repeatedly as Nick and Meg have what can best be described as a passive-aggressive marriage. While each provokes and infuriates the other, they also smile at knowing the other so well after thirty years together.
Their rapport is amusing when she is dryly sarcastic upon arriving at a run down hotel, as is his reaction shot. But their behavior is concerning in a later episode when she threatens to leave him. He is duly upset that the most stable thing he has—his wife Meg—may file for divorce. In between, they fight over a toothbrush, which involves some minor bloodshed and a sexy request.
Le Week-End is mostly a two-hander that lets consummate performers Broadbent and Duncan shine. Audiences will go back in forth with their sympathies as the couple laugh and fight over the film’s 48 hours. This is part of what makes the film so engaging.
For the most part, Nick is fussy, and worried about money (for reasons that are later revealed) and dependent on his wife, whose affections he craves. When he unexpectedly reunites with Morgan (Jeff Goldblum), a successful friend from his college days, Nick becomes more aware of the personal and professional crossroads he is facing in his life. A candid chat Nick has with Morgan’s teenage son (Olly Alexander) is quite touching and revealing.
In contrast, Meg is, as one character states, “attuned to [her] own unhappiness.” She admits being bored, dissatisfied, and furious—“with the clock ticking.” An empty nester, she wants to start a new life, or start what’s left of it. Her frustrations with Nick seem valid, even though she makes rash and bad decisions in Paris. She just wants to have fun riding around in a taxi, eating a fancy meal, or attending a party, feeling entitled to some happiness, whatever the cost. Duncan captures Meg’s complex free spirited qualities along with her vulnerability, as when she sexually taunts her husband while getting dressed for dinner.
The dramatic tension in Le Week-End hinges on the couple staying together or breaking apart, and this is perhaps the film’s weakest element given the depiction of Nick and Meg. There is a key dinner table scene where both husband and wife speak truthfully about their lives and their relationships. It provides the heart of the film and determines its success.
However, if this tender, funny, romantic, poignant and sad film feels almost too slight or precious, or contrived, perhaps it is. But Le Week-End provides a slice of life story that equates its married couple with the overpriced items in the minibar at a posh hotel. Everything looks good, it tastes pretty good (though is a bit unhealthy), but then it comes time to pay the bill.
Le Week-End opens today at the Ritz Five.
Author: Gary M. Kramer
Gary M. Kramer is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer and film critic. He is the co-editor of the forthcoming book, Directory of World Cinema: Argentina. Follow him on twitter @garymkramer.