Nick and Meg have barely stepped off the Eurostar in Roger Michell’s Le Week-end when it becomes evident that nothing bodes well for their hope of recapturing the magic of their honeymoon in Paris from 30 years before. The steps of Montmartre seem so much steeper, the hotel in which they once stayed has been tawdrily refurbished, but, most importantly, the middle-aged English couple, played with consummate skill by Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan, have reached a point in their married life where they can only irritate the hell out of each other.
Le Week-end is written by Hanif Kureishi, who in the mid ’80s, with movies like My Beautiful Laundrette and Sammy and Roise Get Laid, delighted in being one of the bad boys of independent British cinema. Now two years shy of 60, which makes him about the same age as his characters, he’s writing in a more mature and introspective vein. Le Week-end is a portrait of a failing marriage, where the two partners, having endured a monogamous life together, are now questioning whether or not they should remain together. Meg can’t seem to summon up anything but scorn for her husband, a once-promising academic soon to lose his job at a community college in Birmingham. For his part, Nick is painfully aware that he’s totally dependent on his wife, and that he hasn’t lived up to his own potential. “I’m amazed at how mediocre I have turned out to be,” he remarks ruefully at one point.
Broadbent and Duncan are an ideal fit for Kureishi’s bitterly funny, yet surprisingly tender script. Broadbent is able to invest a line like “This last five or 10 years, your vagina has become something of a closed book,” with a wonderful mixture of droll humor and sad regret. And Duncan, as Nick and Meg chat during a meal at a restaurant, splendidly captures the moments of intimacy mixed with disparagement that characterize a long-term relationship with the question, “Why have to you got your constipated face on?” The couple’s mood swings from shared memories, moments that only the two of them can find funny and enjoy, to vitriolic outbursts that rehash old grievances and regrets. And that their discord is played out against the backdrop of the always gorgeous City of Light, everyone’s idea of the most romantic city in the world, of course, makes these scenes all the more poignant.
Michell deliberately invokes the anarchic flavor of the French New Wave. While the film’s title itself may be a sly allusion to Jean Luc-Godard’s 1967 movie of the same name, there are explicit references to the iconic café dance sequence from the celebrated auteur’s 1964 film Band of Outsiders. Also, Jeremy Sams’s catchy pastiche score evokes the sounds of Bacharach and Satie from the same period.
At just the right moment in the movie, Morgan, a former American buddy from Nick’s glory days at Cambridge, quite arbitrarily bursts in. He’s played deliciously to the hilt by Jeff Goldblum, who uses his eccentric line delivery and mannerisms with great comic effect to portray the loud, sometimes obnoxious, yet undeniably charming successful New York ex-pat in Paris. Morgan serves as a catalyst, bringing to a head all the tensions embodied in Nick and Meg’s marriage; at a hilariously awkward dinner party hosted by Morgan, Nick delivers a devastatingly unvarnished summing-up of his dysfunctional life. At this point in their weekend in Paris, Nick and Meg’s misadventures in the city careen into the realm of farce and Morgan, despite his self-absorption will also prove to be a much needed friend. In a delightful climax, which cheerfully borrows from the Godard movie, the three characters celebrate together, but the truths expressed about their lives will linger on.
The New York Film Festival runs from September 27—October 13.