Le Week-End (Music Box Films, R)

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I suspect this film will appeal most strongly to people near their characters in age, as it’s too easy for younger people to wonder why people who have it so good are complaining.

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What do British couples do when they feel disappointed by life? If you trust the movies, they take off for exotic lands like Italy (Enchanted April) or India (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel), or at least cross the channel to bask in a little Parisian glamour. And why? If young people are allowed to go on the road to find themselves, surely adults who have already put in their years working and raising children have earned the same privilege.

In Le Week-End, Nick (Jim Broadbent) and Meg (Lindsay Duncan) Burrows enjoy a standard-issue middle class life, complete with grown children and white-collar employment (he’s a philosophy professor, she teaches in secondary school), but have grown to be strangers to each other. As an attempt to rekindle the flames, they’ve opted for a weekend in Paris, planning to stay at the same hotel where, 30 years ago, they spent their honeymoon.

Clearly Nick needs to study up on his Herodatus, who wisely informed us that you can’t step into the same river twice. The hotel has changed (“It’s too beige!” Meg exclaims), they have changed, and their relationship to life has also changed, and it’s no surprise that this half-hearted attempt to relive the past does not have the desired effect. But it does produce conflict, which as we all know is the very lifeblood of drama.

Perhaps a little too much conflict—at first I was worried I would spend the whole 93 minutes in the company of two British Bickersons who continually bait each other without having the courage to speak honestly to each about their problems or to even to be present in each other’s company. This experience is not a lot of fun, and their little moments of light-heartedness I found less than impressive (and I can only say that this couple should be glad they’re white and middle-aged, because if anyone younger or with a darker hue of skin tried some of their stunts they’d probably find themselves in jail).

Throughout their bickering, you get hints of Nick and Meg’s current lives and how divergently each sees the future, but a lot of the information that would normally be presented as early exposition is held back until the final third, when they attend a dinner party held by Nick’s former colleague Morgan (Jeff Goldblum). Morgan has everything that Nick feels he was entitled to but missed out on—a spacious Paris flat, a circle of sophisticated friends, a young wife that adores him, and public recognition as a scholar and intellectual.

The final 20 minutes of Le Week-End are fascinating, as the principal characters finally have the chance to be something other than irritating (it’s a telling aspect of their relationship that Nick and Meg treat others with far more respect and consideration than they treat each other). Director Roger Mitchell and writer Hanif Kureishi deliver a charming payoff that Godard buffs will particularly enjoy, although I’m not sure it makes up for the tedium of the first hour or so. However, my reservations seem to place me in the minority, as Le Week-End has received nearly unanimous critical acclaim and won several acting awards.

To get anything out of Le Week-End, you have to sympathize with the two principal characters, and Broadbent and Duncan do everything humanly possible to achieve this effect. I suspect this film will appeal most strongly to people near their characters in age, as it’s too easy for younger people to wonder why people who have it so good are complaining (try landing a philosophy professorship today, for instance). Goldblum is also convincing as the oily friend who had the courage to be a real bastard rather than merely irritating and unhappy, and Olly Alexander is good in a small turn as Goldblum’s disaffected son. Nathalie Durand’s cinematography gives you the feel of being in Paris (always a plus) without resorting to a lot of picture-postcard shots. | Sarah Boslaugh

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