Arts & Culture · Film & Television

Movie Review: No False Notes in “Le Week-End”

LeWeekend_620_620x350Le Week-End

At Women’s Voices for Change, we’ve recently commented on a Hollywood trend. The industry seems to have finally noticed that women of a certain age can carry a movie. They can make us laugh; they can partake in a little romance. They can even have sex, albeit in an awkward “Baby, can we turn the lights off?” way.

I think of these new, more mature romantic comedies as “mom-coms.”

At first glance, Le Week-End appears to be just this sort of film. A grownup couple returns to Paris for a second honeymoon after 30 years of marriage. The preview for Le Week-End shows them touring about the city, rediscovering themselves and each other, sparring in a familiar half-joking way, skipping out on an expensive meal, and even dancing to a jukebox at a café. The two-minute tease promises that Le Week-End will provide us with knowing chuckles and renew our faith in love.

So much for truth in advertising (or in movie trailers).

The preview may be misleading, but there are no false notes in Le Week-End. It’s cold, hard truth—an insightful portrait of two people, once in love, now not so sure. After three decades together, they struggle with lost potential, sexual frustration, petty jealousies, and a realization that there probably won’t be a happy ending.

In less capable hands, Le Week-End would be tiresome at best, if not downright depressing. But director Roger Michell (Notting Hill) doesn’t focus solely on the negative. A cruel comment is immediately followed by a shared joke. Resentment and affection live side by side.

“You make my blood boil,” snarls the wife.

“That’s proof of a deep connection,” responds her husband.

Writer Hanif Kureishi (My Beautiful Laundrette) has done a remarkable job with the dialogue. The banter is clever, yet so candid that the audience feels a bit sheepish. We’re overhearing a wholly believable private conversation; these two are most definitely not on their best behavior. No company manners here.

The direction and writing are engaging and unusually intelligent, and the cast is pitch perfect. Jim Broadbent (a familiar English character actor and 2002 Oscar winner for Iris) is Nick, a rumpled literature professor who has just been asked to retire after making a politically incorrect comment about a black student’s hair. Lindsay Duncan (a Tony- and Olivier-winning stage actress) is Meg, a schoolteacher, a luminous beauty with a monumental chip on her shoulder.

One of the things I love about Le Week-End is that it takes two gifted actors, typically relegated to supporting roles, and puts them front and center.

Le Week-End starts with Meg and Nick taking the Eurostar train from the U.K. to France. We recognize the gentle nagging pattern of an established couple: “Do you have the euros?” They don’t seem particularly happy or unhappy, just accustomed to each other. The bickering really starts when they arrive at their hotel. It’s dingy and nondescript, but we sense that Nick has taken some effort to find it. Their room is a metaphor for their marriage, dowdy and small. “It’s beige,” Meg complains. Nick reluctantly nods, “There’s a certain light-brownness about it.”

This sets up a pattern we’ll see again and again in the movie. Meg is dissatisfied with her life, and she complains often and cuttingly. Nick deflects it with clever, sometimes self-deprecating rejoinders, which, naturally, make Meg even more sour. The fact that Nick never quite rises to her anger may be what irritates her most of all.

Leaving their bland little hotel behind, they take a wild taxi ride through the city and land at the elegant Hôtel Athénée. Apparently the Prime Minister once stayed there. “I hope they changed the sheets,” quips Nick. “We deserve this,” Meg asserts and hands over a credit card. We sense they can’t quite afford it (this is soon confirmed in no uncertain terms).

What follows is a bit of a spending spree. The couple buys piles of art books (with which they decorate their sumptuous suite, clipping and taping pages to the walls). When they overindulge at an expensive restaurant, Meg suggests that they escape without paying the bill. They fumble through and run along the streets of Paris, exhilarated. Their kiss, when they finally do stop, is the first passion we see. 

An old American acquaintance, Morgan, sees it too. Actor Jeff Goldblum adds a new and welcome, decidedly bigger-than-life, element to the movie. Morgan is a former student and colleague of Nick’s. Insanely successful, he lives in a stylish Parisian apartment with his “child bride” (who happens to be great with child). He invites the couple to a “little party” he’s having.

The soirée turns out to be a gathering of greats, a roomful of posturing cultural overachievers. Morgan makes much of Nick, holding him up as an uncompromising idealist. Meanwhile, Nick sneaks off to smoke dope with Morgan’s sulky son from an earlier marriage, and Meg makes plans for an after-hours rendezvous with one of the other guests. The climax of the film comes when Nick makes a heartfelt speech, stripping himself bare emotionally, and taking Morgan’s guests—and Meg—by surprise. This may be what she’s been waiting for all along.

More than once during Le Week-End, I felt I was in familiar cinematic territory. I’m a big fan of Richard Linklater’s Before movies (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight), and I recognized a version of those films’ Jesse and Céline. But—older, sadder, and unsuccessful—Nick and Meg have less to build on. They somehow have even less to hold on to.

Le Week-End’s final scene is delightfully ambiguous (and just plain delightful). It’s an impromptu dance homage to Band of Outsiders by “New Wave” director Jean-Luc Godard (who, tellingly, also directed 1967’s Weekend). Nick and Meg have hit rock bottom, financially at least, yet Morgan sees this as another adventure. He offers to help them sort it out, but warns, “It may take a long time.” For him, it’s another example of Nick’s admirable resilience, his unwillingness to sell out. (Of course, we know, as does Nick, that he was never exactly offered a choice about it.)

Morgan’s pleased to be along for the ride. And we are too.

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