'Le Week-End' finds humor in a struggling marriage
“Le Week-End” is a ruefully funny look at a long-term marriage. Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan set aside their tedious academic lives in England for a quick nip over to Paris. There, he hopes to rekindle their amorous spark, but the vacation becomes a marathon of comic-romantic pathos to rival “Cyrano.”
There is sadness in this movie, yet, director Roger Michell's picturesque view of Paris, and Hanif Kureishi's humane, platitude-free screenplay leave you feeling unreasonably happy.
The pair are sophisticated tourists, seeking out old haunts that thrilled them on past visits. Flinging caution into the Seine, they take a grand hotel's presidential suite and dine at three-star restaurants. But this time, adolescent thrills are scarce. He's phobic about overspending (there's a serious reason for that). She is desperate for adventure, escapism and maybe escape from their relationship. As the less committed of the two, she holds the stronger cards. She may be bruisable but he is breakable.
She gets a perverse joy of setting every hurdle higher than the last. Soon they're running out on their dinner tabs and facing a hotel bill as high as the Eiffel Tower. Just at their moment of need, they cross paths with Broadbent's old school chum Jeff Goldblum. Now a prominent intellectual, remarried to a gorgeous, pregnant young Frenchwomen, he represents every lost opportunity that bedevils them. He insists that they be guests of honor at a dinner party, where their frustrations go from sardonic to stratospheric.
Goldblum shines in this very Goldblum-y role. There's a hawklike alertness about his gaze from behind narrowed lids, a quickness of comprehension one jump ahead of everyone else's. Broadbent generates a discomfiting wit somewhere between laughter and wincing. Duncan, luminous, expresses the full human complexity of a middle-aged woman weary of her marital marathon.
The idea of the film, I think, is that to survive in a generations-long marriage, you have to be either a person of exceptional sensitivity and intelligence or a holy simpleton. The sublime finale, with all three actors re-creating a hokey-pokey dance from their favorite New Wave film, shows that even if you're going through the motions, you can do it with style and grace.
Colin Covert writes for the Star Tribune (Minneapolis).