1:15 PM EDT, March 20, 2014
Screenwriter Hanif Kureishi burst onto the scene a generation ago with "My Beautiful Laundrette" (1985), and his latest script, "Le Week-End," may be the best he's written since then.
The film, Kureishi's third collaboration with director Roger Michell, gets an amazing amount accomplished in an hour and a half. It begins as a blithe romantic comedy about an English couple, played by Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan, visiting Paris for their 30th wedding anniversary. But they soon venture into dark and bittersweet places, and before long the movie — as neatly constructed as it is — isn't really behaving like a movie, but more like life, as it's lived by a fractious pair of empty nesters who find themselves at a crossroads.
Above all "Le Week-End" is an actors' showcase designed to humanize what Michell has called "the algebra of marriage." Broadbent and Duncan play Nick and Meg. He's a college philosophy professor; she teaches secondary school. They've come to Paris to stay once again at the hotel they knew decades ago. In the film's brisk opening scenes, they arrive, they're disappointed (the hotel has romance-killing beige walls) and Meg impulsively checks into a swank hotel, determined to make the most of the time they have. "You know I'm anxious about money," Nick mutters. "We might live for ages."
They find a restaurant to their liking, and they open up a little, but what they hear coming out of their mouths has the ring of the beginning of the end. "You can't not love and hate the same person," Nick says. "Usually in the space of five minutes, in my experience." Meg, who describes herself as "tri-polar, possibly," counters with, "You like things steady. Too steady." Duncan delivers this line with unnerving calm.
In Duncan's perfect performance, Meg is a woman of hairpin curves and a natural sensuality too long tamped down. Broadbent, working in an unusually subtle register, gives us an academic of great promise, whose career never flowered into something larger. A drolly superficial Jeff Goldblum, the third major character in "Le Week-End," plays that something larger: Morgan, an American Nick knew, and mentored, back in their Cambridge days. A chance meeting on the street in Paris leads to an invitation to a dinner party Morgan's having in honor of his new book on economics.
At the party Meg finds an opportunity for romance, though it threatens to bust up a fragile marriage for good. Nick meets Morgan's grown son (Olly Alexander), an aimless, pot-smoking lost soul like Nick and Meg's older boy (whom we never meet). The encounters and relationships in "Le Week-End" are sketched swiftly and not always with the detail you'd like. The film's mood swings reflect Meg's temperament; now and then, scored by some wonderful, jazzy music from composer Jeremy Sams, Meg dashes into some larcenous act of rebellion (skipping out on a dinner bill, for example), and Duncan and Broadbent run down the street like the young scamps in Jean-Luc Godard's "Band of Outsiders." That film is quoted explicitly throughout Michell's picture, which is shot in a loose, casually effective style.
"Le Week-End" doesn't really match up with its own poster image, which shows a radiant Duncan and Broadbent reignited by the City of Light. The film's high spirits come at a price; there's serious and complicated frustration underneath the banter. But the film works beautifully on its own terms, and if it's not quite what's advertised, or what you may expect ... c'est la vie.
"Le Week-End" - 3 1/2 stars
MPAA rating: R (for language and some sexual content)
Running time: 1:33
Opens: Friday at Landmark's Century Centre Cinema
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