Like many movies about couples who treat their relationship as a sparring ring, Roger Michell’s Le Week-End dares you to choose sides. Do you plunk down your support for the affable but retiring bookish bloke Nick (Jim Broadbent)? Or do you take the side of the skittery and cat-like Meg (Lindsay Duncan). He pokes at her, she lashes at him. They swoon together in a church, shushed by worshippers not wanting to see that kind of adolescent heat, and battle it out in the street. Sensibilities get lacerated and bank accounts demolished. It makes for an agitated film, one much starker and less forgiving than the cheery trailer promises, but with a few notable fillips of romanticism flashing through.
Meg and Nick are a couple of old duffers who wearily decant themselves from the train in Paris like the befuddled but plucky British pensioners they’ll soon be. It’s an anniversary trip but one conducted under a cloud. They’re barely in their drab old side-street hotel before Meg has stormed out and gone tearing around Paris, barely looking to see if Nick is following behind with the bags. She throws euros at the cabbie and gabbles away in French before hurling herself into a posh establishment whose gilded appearance drags deep lines of money-worry in Nick’s face. She knows and doesn’t care.
Everything Meg does carries a sour, mysterious violence. It’s either the deep disappointment of the spouse who looks at their mate and sees a reflection of their own perceived failures, or very simply a long piled-up store of resentments: The détente of long relationships. To combat her terror of boredom, she tosses them into one kamikaze mission after another (spending jags, dashing out on the check in fancy restaurants). Nick asks her if she thinks she might be bipolar. “Tripolar, maybe,” she laughs, before darting off yet again.
Is she trying to escape or daring him to follow? It says something about Michell’s laid back, actor-friendly directing and Hanif Kureishi’s typically loose and noneventful script that the answer is never clear. A late appearance by a more puckish than usual Jeff Goldblum, as a wildly successful old school chum of Nick’s, is one of a number of curveballs (some effective, some not) which Kureishi shoots at his characters later in the film, adding to the welcome air of chaos. There’s even a short dance number and a not-entirely-predictable Godard reference.
Even so, there is a certain cul-de-sac feeling to Le Week-End. It’s as though once the film shifts Nick and Meg into their highest gear, it doesn’t know where to go with them. This is a refreshing change from the mechanistic dullness of Michell’s mainstream romances like Notting Hill and Morning Glory. The cycle of their fights and reconciliations is acutely observed, but made mostly watchable by the stopwatch-perfect interplay of Broadbent and Duncan. Their sparring is professional, and ticklingly comical where it needs to be. But it also draws blood from time to time. Duncan’s a live wire; she’s all a-crackle, and nearly able to wrest the film away completely from an effortlessly winning Broadbent. They both convey different variations on the same theme: Nearing a frightening late period of their life, neither knows whether to keep plugging along or just chuck it all and hope that things work out.