In Roger Michell’s Le Week-End, older British couple Nick (Jim Broadbent) and Meg (Lindsay Duncan) go to Paris to celebrate their anniversary. You might think that sounds like a nice little premise for a movie, and if you know Michell’s comedies like 1999’s Notting Hill or 2010’s Morning Glory, you might suspect something along the lines of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel or Quartet, a sweet story leavened by the realities of growing old not quite gracefully. The premise of Le Week-End, and at least one trailer I’ve seen, seems to suggest a very different kind of movie than the one we’re presented with.
Le Week-End hews closer to2006’s Venus, which - with scarifying, pitiless clarity - presents us with a quasi affair between a septuagenarian actor (Peter O’Toole) and a dull young woman, or 2003’s The Mother, both of which were written by Hanif Kureishi (My Beautiful Laundrette), who also supplied this script. Nick and Meg are not a cute elderly couple inspired to frolic in the City of Light. They are people intelligent enough to understand their own misery, and to understand that a holiday is at best a half-measure.
Parts of Le Week-End might remind you of John Cassavetes’ low-budget, high-resolution dramas - there’s a wince-inducing realness to the often painful interactions between the couple. Meg rebuffs Nick’s shows of affection, saying that his hugs make her feel like she’s being “arrested.” When he trips and falls in the street, genuinely hurting himself, she laughs. It’s just another indignity added to a long list.
She understands their lives are coming apart even if she doesn’t know the specifics - they arrive in Paris and she’s disappointed at the three star accommodations he has booked, so she moves them into a luxury place on the Rue George V. They hole up there in a room that’s far too dear, alternately snarling and flailing and trying to make some sense of their empty-nested lives. They go to an expensive restaurant. They run away rather than paying. They pretend to be footloose and bohemian. They watch Godard’s Band of Outsiders on TV. They know the “Madison dance” scene well.
They run into one of Nick’s old university chums (Jeff Goldblum) on the street; he invites them to a party at his apartment, where he lives with his new young French wife. The party is populated with chic intellectuals, one of whom shows inordinate interest in Meg. Meanwhile Nick seeks out his buddy’s teenage bong-hitting son. They commiserate.
Maybe it will be hard for you not to feel for these people, who keep hurting each other and stumbling over their own feet. The camera lingers on Broadbent’s kindly bulldog face as he closes his eyes and dances recklessly to the Dylan that’s playing in his headphones. What else can one do? There’s not enough money and the kids aren’t all right, and his wife can no longer bear his touch or his equivocations.
Not everyone will like this film. I’m not sure that I did. There is a drop or two of hope mixed in with the resignation, but these people are doomed. They’re not cute or cuddly and whatever happiness they come by they will have to work for - just like the rest of us.
Le Week-End 88 Cast: Jim Broadbent, Lindsay Duncan, Jeff Goldblum Director: Roger Michell Rating: R, for language and some sexual content Running time: 93 minutes
MovieStyle, Pages 31 on 04/18/2014
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