“Le Week-End” opens Friday in Madison at Sundance Cinemas. I’ll host a post-show discussion after the 6:50 p.m. show on Tuesday, May 13. R, 1:43, three stars out of four.
Beware the trailer for “Le Week-End,” which sells the film as a fizzy romantic comedy for the older set, its stars romancing their way through Paris. In fact, Roger Michell’s acidic and poignant film is less “Before Sunrise” and more “Before Midnight.”
Nick (Jim Broadbent) and Meg (Lindsay Duncan) are certainly hoping to have a cinematic Paris adventure when they arrive to celebrate their 30th anniversary. But the thing about travel is that you never get to leave yourself at home, and their feet barely have hit the cobblestones before they’re sniping at each other, sometimes good-naturedly, sometimes not.
Nick is a university professor who has quietly hidden away his disappointment at how his life has gone; Meg is a teacher who is anything but quiet about her dissatisfaction. As they argue over which hotel to stay at or which restaurant to eat at, we start to see the larger fault lines in their relationship. Anxious about getting older, Nick tries to pull closer to his wife. Anxious about getting older, Meg pulls away from her husband.
“I’ll never understand how you can love and hate someone in the same five minutes,” Meg says at one point. That statement could serve as a mission statement for Le Week-End,” as the couple argues and makes up, argues and makes up, lovely Paris a backdrop to their pull me/push you dynamic. A lot of contented marriage settle into a rhythm like this.
But slowly the arguments start to crowd out the reconcilations, and Nick and Meg start heading into much tougher territory in their marriage. While Nick clings to Meg like a life preserver, she feels stifled, and now that they’re empty-nesters is considering calling it quits. (The scene where she brings up the idea of divorce is all the more heartbreaking because of her “Let’s be reasonable about this” tone.)
Broadbent and Duncan, two of Britain’s best working actors, are perfectly cast as the couple, making you sense the long history between them even before screenwriter/novelist Hanif Kureishi teases out the details. Duncan is beautiful in a chilly sort of way, the sort of woman who seems to stand just a bit apart from the life she’s leading. And Broadbent has one of his best roles as the seemingly ordinary Nick; he looks amiable and shambling, but you can see the panic in his eyes as he sees his entire life at risk. There’s a great scene where Nick is listening to “Like a Rolling Stone” on his IPod in the hotel room. Broadbent bops around and croaks out lyrics like any typical middle-aged doofus, but then he goes quiet and you can see the weight of the words (“How does it feel?”) seep into his bones, sap his spirit.
The always welcome Jeff Goldblum makes an especially welcome appearance as Morgan, an old college buddy of Nick’s who has become a wealthy, successful author with a Paris apartment and new wife — the embodiment of the life Nick thought he was heading for but never quite achieved. Morgan is supposed to be sort of fatuous, but Goldblum is having so much fun with the role, rolling the lines around in his mouth like pieces of hard candy, that you can’t help but adore him.
Maybe that’s the real message, underneath all the professional disappointment and marital strife of “Le Week-End”: whatever you end up doing, whoever you end up with, enjoy doing it as much as Jeff Goldblum would.