The depiction of love in movies often feels unfulfilling to the older movie-goer or anyone, for that matter, with true experiences in long-term relationships. Hollywood has a knack for making weddings part of the climax in films about relationships. Anyone who has had a wedding knows they are but a momentary blip in life. The real tricky part is capturing a semblance of the ever-complicating life shared between those who have been married.
Le Week-End director Roger Michell (the man behind both Notting Hill and The Mother) has many years exploring love in the movies. Armed with a screenplay by novelist Hanif Kureishi, he probably has not handled the subject more delicately or subtly until now. British couple Meg (Lindsay Duncan) and Nick (Jim Broadbent) are looking to rekindle romance in Paris by returning for a weekend to stay at the hotel where they first spent their honeymoon, 30 years ago. She bounces between raging frustration with him and flighty spontaneity. He can hardly keep up and has his own quiet, sheepish frustration that he tends to keep bottled up. In one meek attempt to seduce her, Nick reaches out and she flinches. “Why won’t you ever let me touch you?” he says.
She responds, “It’s not love. It’s like being arrested.”
They fight and argue a lot from one scene to another. During many transitional edits, the film and, by association, the couple seem to reboot. Romantic jazz music, featuring stride piano and plucky acoustic guitar accompanies the fade-in to these new scenes. The two distinct instruments call and respond. It almost mirrors the to and fro of the couple’s often opposing perspectives. It’s not discordant, however. There’s harmony but also conflict with in these distinct characters (I’m referring to both the instruments and the couple). It’s a witty musical representation of the couple. It’s hard to note this jazzy score by Jeremy Sams and not allude to a comparison to Woody Allen’s work as a director, who also has long presented a fine-tuned concern of romantic relationships on the rocks.
Another, more grim comparison could be to Before Midnight (Film review: ‘Before Midnight’ offers original glimpse of love evolved). With its extended scenes of sometimes passive-aggressive tension between its characters (when anger and resentments are not directly being flung at the other), Before Midnight can feel difficult to endure, as conversations spiral into full-blown operatic emotional battles. Le Week-End, on the other hand, knows how to keep the conflict in check with tidy scenes that build toward the fateful appearance of a third wheel played by an exuberant Jeff Goldblum. His character brings some refreshing perspective for not only Meg and Nick but also the viewer.
It could have been tiresome to just follow this antagonistic husband and wife for the entire film. Thankfully, Morgan appears to not only infuse some life into the film but also a deeper tragedy. Goldblum brings vibrant energy to Morgan, a former student of Nick’s who has had more success with his writing than his teacher. He also happens to live in Paris with a younger, pregnant wife. Though he seems to be doing well, he credits the dreary, serious Nick as an inspiration. “Over the years that I’ve sat at desks like this,” he says after inviting Nick into his fancy study overlooking the Eiffel Tower, “and in the times when I’ve tried to convince myself that I’ve had some kind of brain or just a little bit of rigor or integrity … I would think what would Nick Burroughs do now?” This weighs heavy on Nick, who happens to be a philosophy professor, not just as a compliment but a terrible burden of possibility.
Morgan has invited the couple to his spacious apartment for a dinner party with artists, writers, scholars— a veritable cornucopia of intelligentsia. But just when you think the director has inserted Morgan as some mirror character of possibilities, the film gifts us a confessional moment by Morgan to Nick. He says of his young wife, “She can’t see through me yet. I mean, she will,” Morgan says as he nervously chomps on an hors d’oeuvre, his eyes flitting about in a perfect Goldblumism.
Meanwhile, a younger Frenchman chats up Meg. With little to gain from this flirt, she quickly reveals her morose character, talking about her “fury, dissatisfaction and the clock ticking by.” But, oh, these French people. He’s still taken by her. “What a great thing,” he tells her with a pensive smile, “to be so attuned to your unhappiness.”
Still, thirty years of marriage matters for something, and the film, for all its bitterness and conflict, also subtly reveals slight but precious moments shared by Meg and Nick. Though they never seem to notice it themselves, the partners reveal similar habits, like when they wipe their eyeglasses at the same time at the table with their dinner napkins. Thankfully, the director does not try to highlight these moments heavy-handedly.
Underneath the explosive bitterness, the big value of the smaller things shines through and ultimately bonds Meg and Nick, and it makes the film a much nicer pill to swallow than most such movies. For all its seeming indulgence in the misery of this couple, Le Week-End turns out to be a delightful film. Communication opens up, and as much as this couple pushes so hard to move forward during a time when they should be just settling in, it is indulging in a bit of nostalgia that always seems the best cure for them. That the film ends with an even grander and more resonant reference to Jean-Luc Godard’s Bande à part than the delightful, though comparatively naïve Frances Ha, gives the film’s finale an extra punch. Fine, it’s work to make a long-lasting marriage work, but a bit of honesty to oneself and some confidence can go a long way to submit to the humbling power of a bond for a life shared together.
Le Week-End runs 93 minutes and is Rated R (mature language and sexual problems). Music Box Films provided a DVD screener for the purpose of this review. It opens in South Florida on April 4, in the Miami/Fort Lauderdale area at the Regal South Beach 18, AMC Sunset Place and The Classic Gateway Theatre. On April 18 it expands northward to West Palm Beach, at the Regal Shadowood, Living Room Theaters, Movies of Delray, Movies of Lake Worth and Downtown Gardens/West Palm Beach. It already began playing in other parts of the U.S. and has more dates scheduled through May; visit the film’s official webpage and click on “theaters” for more screening dates.
Update: Le Week-End will enjoy a brief weekend run at the Bill Cosford Cinema, Friday, May 16 – Sunday, May 18. Screening details.