Le Week-End

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 04/05/14 21:11:42

"It is quite worth meeting Jim Broadbent & Lindsay Duncan in Paris."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Vicarious travel is one of the more underrated joys of going to the movies even if it can't carry a film itself, and "Le Week-End" uses it well: It could have just been another nicely-acted argument that runs for ninety minutes, but having the characters visit Paris puts it in the world, gives the audience something to experience beyond the voyeurism of being an unseen observer of someone else's marriage, and exerts an influence on the story that a generic location wouldn't. The location doesn't upstage Jim Broadbent or Lindsay Duncan, but it gives them something extra to work with.

They play Nick and Meg, a couple returning to the city where they honeymooned for their thirtieth anniversary, not sure what the rest of their life is going to look like with the kids out of the house. The hotel Nick booked is small and drab, so Meg insists on an upgrade - they are, after all, at an age when they could use a rest between excursions. During one of those walks about town, they meet Nick's college friend Morgan (Jeff Goldblum), a quite successful writer who invites them to a soirée at his apartment the next night.

While Paris itself, Jeff Goldblum, and a few other characters who enter the picture in the final act certainly have notable effects on the movie, it is still going to find itself rising and falling on how the audience relates to Meet and Nick. Happily, they are an interesting pair to watch, both because a fine pair of actors have been cast in the parts and because they are something of a role reversal for how the couple in a movie like this is usually built: Meg is more the prickly curmudgeon of the pair, with Nick more the sentimental, steadying type. That is, naturally, a gross oversimplification of the pair; Nick is also plenty prone to making things blow up in his own face, for instance, and both are individual enough to make things interesting.

It does a nice job of playing to the core cast's strengths, too. Jim Broadbent is an exceptional character actor, a wonderful part of an ensemble, and even though he's a co-lead here, he's still able to do a fine job of supporting Duncan and the rest of the cast, not overpowering them despite giving Nick a full personality. It gives Lindsay Duncan the room to assert herself as Meg, whether impish or cranky, and she does a terrific job of always finding the right choice of good-natured sarcasm or quietly-simmering (but genuine) anger without either one seeming to undercut the many scenes where she is quite playful. They make a good, entertaining match, fitting together but not so perfectly that there's no friction.

Jeff Goldblum plays the next-most-important character, although he's about three or for steps behind Duncan and Broadbent on terms of prominence. Morgan is kind of problematic as a construct in some ways - writer Hanif Kureishi uses him as a rather blunt tool to get Nick & Meg from one situation to another at least twice during the film's back end, and for all of Goldblum's unique mumbling charm and how appropriately little Morgan acts as a direct catalyst, it's rather obvious. Still, his presence does a nice job of bringing who Nick & Meg are into focus, and there is something almost aspirational about how they can be these earthy intellectuals: That they can navigate the city in French and appreciate the art they see without gawking but still also have money troubles is not a sign off disgrace or putting on airs, and a nice break from the populist/classist angle many American films would take. It lets everybody honestly assess their lives with only a little misplaced irony.

Director Roger Michell does a fine job of smoothing over those potential bumps, mostly keeping things light but seldom exaggeratedly so. He takes a story without a great deal of incident and make things feel active, but not so much that the audience can't enjoy the sights. And though he seldom has characters actually point those sights out, he does manage to get the atmosphere of the city to permeate the film, injecting plenty of good cheer and buoying the characters so that the story can play out at its proper leisurely pace.

A trip to Paris won't always erase one's malaise, but it certainly brightens things up most of the time. That's part of why, even though it's easier to describe "Le Week-End" in terms of a marriage threatening to crumble rather than reconnecting, it's quite the enjoyable little film, even before taking how hard it is to go far wrong with this cast into account.

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