It’s not that Nick and Meg Burrows are looking for an easy fix (though, returning to the site of their honeymoon for a romantic weekend away may indicate that’s very much the case), but that the long-married (and apparently long-suffering) couple are looking for anything to mix up their stale marriage. Paris sounds like as good a place as any, and why not go for a nostalgia-fueled romp in a city that, even without personal baggage, comes complete with all the romance one could ever wish to find?
Though it’s clear from the start of Roger Michell’s Le Week-End that there are bigger problems afoot in the union of Nick (Jim Broadbent) and Meg (Lindsay Duncan) than general annoyances may indicate, the trick of the film is to navigate the sort of issues that come with being married for thirty years without coming across as shrill or overwrought. Most of the time, Michell and his two very talented stars are able to do that, and Le Week-End switches between comfortable humor and biting revelations with ease, all bolstered by the charm and beauty of Paris. And yet Hanif Kureishi’s script doesn’t put as much faith in the trio as it should, loading down the film’s final third with wacky supporting characters and over-the-top confessions.
Broadbent and Duncan are beautifully matched as the battling Burrows, and the first act of the film is a satisfying dance between approachable humor (the first hotel they check into is terrible!) and slowly unspooling emotional nibbles. It’s a brisk opener, and it effectively steeps the audience in both the film’s two main characters and the situation they find themselves in. On the surface, Meg is the more emotionally complex of the pair – prone to fits of fancy, harboring resentments that date back to the nineties, and refreshingly free of illusions when it comes to their kids, Duncan has a lot to work with here, and she does it with ease. Nick seems far more basic (at least at first), as his issues seem principally rooted in a desire to engage with his wife in a sexual manner, something she shuts down time and again. Their weekend trip to Paris is thus tasked with reigniting two kinds of sparks – the emotional and physical – but as Michell’s film winds on, it seems less and less likely that such a thing will actually happen.
While most of Le Week-End is a two-hander between Broadbent and Duncan, and while that often works gloriously well, so long as the script moves them along (the second act is a bit stale), Michell makes the somewhat disheartening choice to inject a few unexpected talents in the film’s final act. Jeff Goldblum pops up in a city square, all kicking legs and chipper attitude, as a former pallie of Nick’s who has somehow managed to reinvent himself and find success late in life. He’s eventually joined by the wonderfully expressive Olly Alexander, an appropriately alluring Frenchman, and Goldblum’s pillow-lipped young wife – all of whom ensnare a Burrows for small chats that have big emotional results. It’s a traditional, if not somewhat cheap way to add some spice and upheaval to the film, and though it does its job, it’s unfortunate that Broadbent and Duncan couldn’t be trusted to pull it off between the two of them.
Unexpectedly prone to bursts of Goldblumian humor, it’s not an entirely serious outing, which makes its more wrenching reveals all the more powerful. At turns charming and subtly complex, Le Week-End is no grand affair to remember, but it’s a fine enough showcase for two winning talents and the sort of mature take on romance we don’t see nearly often enough.
The Upside: Warmly and intimately shot; wonderful, witty, nuanced, finely tuned performances from Duncan and Broadbent.
The Downside: Falls slack in its middle act, introduces new characters far too late (and for the express and obvious purpose of just mixing things up)
On the Side: Olly Alexander, who plays Goldblum’s son in the film, might look familiar to both fans of indie music (he has his own band) and indie film (he’s starred in lo-fi hits like The Dish & the Spoon, Enter the Void, and Bright Star).