Jesse and Celine in retirement: Fine acting can’t save voyeuristic, derivative film
Your enjoyment of Le Week-End, the new collaboration from director Roger Michell (Hyde Park on Hudson, Notting Hill) and writer Hanif Kureishi (Venus, My Beautiful Launderette) will depend on your predilection for eavesdropping on intimate conversations between longtime couples. If being privy to such personal discussions intrigues and delights you, then you may be the audience for this picture. If the dissection of the intricacies of a 30-year-marriage doesn’t sound appealing to you, however, then you may want to pass on this one.
Le Week-End, as its name implies, takes place over the course of one weekend; in this case, the weekend in question is a 30th anniversary getaway to Paris for British philosophy professor Nick (Jim Broadbent) and his schoolteacher wife Meg (Lindsay Duncan). The two attempt to recreate their Parisian honeymoon from 30 years prior, with mixed results.
The picture deserves accolades for presenting the romantic travails of an older, long-married couple, a subject not frequently seen on screen (last year’s far superior Amour notwithstanding), but, unfortunately, Michell and Kureishi offer no new unique perspective on the subject. Their film plays out like Before Midnight for the senior set (in fact, Lindsay Duncan eerily resembles the way Julie Delpy’s Celine might look as she enters her 70s), with a healthy dose of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf tossed in for good measure.
Nick and Meg are alternatively hostile and tender with each other, moving from bickering to laughing and from sniping to kissing often within mere minutes. Nick is the more needy of the two, insecure and constantly looking for reassurance –both physical and emotional – from Meg, and seldom receiving it, while Meg is more cold and distant, easily irritated by her husband, and freely pointing out his annoying habits (she grumbles about the way he eats his food loudly, for example). We see the more mundane aspects of how they relate to each other – Meg reminds Nick that he’s got the Euros, reminds him to keep track of the keys, and acts annoyed when he tried to be affectionate with her. Yet we also see their playful side – Nick makes Meg laugh easily, and they pull a dash-and dine-stunt at a fancy Paris restaurant worthy of carefree young college students.
With their professional careers nearing their end and their son grown, Nick and Meg seem at loose ends. They are daunted by the prospect being alone together for many more years to come, yet are equally terrified of being without one another. When they aren’t squabbling or laughing, much of their time is spent in serious, wrenching discussion about what each wants, both from each other and from life itself.
Things come to a head when Nick and Meg attend a dinner party hosted by Morgan (Jeff Goldblum, bringing some levity to the proceedings), a successful writer and former colleague of Nick’s. There Meg is hit on by one of Morgan’s suave French colleagues: “What a great thing to be so attuned to your own unhappiness,” the guy says to Meg, in what apparently is supposed to be a sexy French intellectual’s charming method of flirting. That scene is contrasted with Nick musing about life with Morgan’s teenage son Michael (Olly Alexander) upstairs in Michael’s bedroom while the party unfolds beneath them. The evening serves as a catalyst for Nick and Meg to resolve their marital rupture, though by the time the requisite inappropriate dinner speeches happen, you may be as bored with the outcome as Nick and Meg have been with each other throughout much of the film.
The picture at least is made somewhat interesting by its fine performances. Broadbent and Duncan are consummate actors, and each does a masterful job of authentically conveying the confused mixture of petty annoyances, harbored resentments, and lingering love typical of long relationships. And Jeff Goldblum is at his smarmy, boorish best, channeling an older, more successful version of the obsequious People magazine writer he portrayed so adeptly in Lawrence Kasdan’s 1983 classic The Big Chill.
But such terrific acting is not enough of a reason to recommend this film. At one point in the film Nick says, “love is the only interesting thing.” He may very well be right, since this picture certainly doesn’t challenge that notion to any great degree.
Le Week-End opens in Bay Area theaters today.