In the last decade, the “indie” film world has seen a glut of films featuring characters in their golden years. And for good reason: as the baby boomers graduate into that age group, a huge chunk of the regular film-watching audience can empathize more easily with the struggles of sexagenarians. But these audiences are the same ones who were enthralled by Taxi Driver and Chinatown in their twenties (and were old enough to dodge the 1980’s blockbuster obsession hastened by Star Wars’ massive popularity among teens) so it shouldn’t be surprising that the films targeting their now-elderly age group would have a twinge of the art film about them. Thus precipitates stunning films like Amour (2012) and Away from Her (2006) and more run of the mill fare like The Savages (2007), The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2012) and Philomena (2013), all aiming their aesthetic sights on the naturalist grit and intimate characterization of New Hollywood. Le Week-End certainly fits in with that crowd, focused as it is on two 60-something married Brits on holiday, but fortunately it is pithy and dynamic enough to pull it out of the genre trap.
Director: Roger Michell
Producer: Kevin Loader
Writer: Hanif Kureishi
Cinematographer: Nathalie Durand
Editor: Kristina Hetherington
Music: Jeremy Sams
Cast: Lindsay Duncan, Jim Broadbent, Jeff Goldblum, Brice Beaugier, Judith Davis, Olly Alexander
Premiere: September 7, 2013 – Toronto International Film Festival
US Release: March 14, 2014
US Distributor: Music Box Films
The film’s central couple, Nick (Jim Broadbent) and Meg (Lindsay Duncan) are middle-class intellectuals from Birmingham—Nick is a philosophy professor and Meg is a school teacher—and the film tunes in as they take the train to Paris for a weekend celebrating their thirtieth wedding anniversary. Beyond demonstrating the jealousy-inducing intersectional nature of Western Europe (if only Paris, Amsterdam, and Berlin were only a train ride away from South Minneapolis) it puts us into the same shoes as our long-time couple, alienated and knowing little in a slightly uncanny world. Of course, this couple has been to Paris before, and so opens their adventure, returning to the ramshackle hotel that they visited when they were young. Now, however, Meg can’t stand the place, bemoaning everything down to the color of the walls (“so beige”), and our couple’s major crisis presents itself: Meg is searching for romance, allure and excitement, while Nick seeks steady practicality. In a scene that cuts to the heart of the matter, Nick explains he thought this trip could be a chance to escape their routine and talk about things that really matter, like what kind of tiles they should put in the bathroom. It’s hard to imagine a less romantic sentiment, and understandably, this rankles Meg’s disposition.
They eventually opt out of the dingy hostel-esque locale and check into a posh hotel well beyond their means, living out Meg’s romantic Paris fantasy. Throughout the rest of the film we watch this couple vacillate emotionally between harsh, hurtful spats and co-dependent neediness, with a few rare moments of genuine affection, but at the heart of their conflict is their differing worldviews: Nick’s attraction to mundaneness and Meg’s to the sublime. The two are recent empty nesters, struggling with the reality of living without their children as a buffer (their twenty-something burnout son—Nick describes him as a professional television watcher—has just moved out of their house). It seems that on some level, this trip is meant to reinvigorate their marriage, though neither would admit it. Still, their constant bickering belies that intention, demonstrating just how deeply broken their relationship is. “You can’t not love and hate the same person,” says Nick, “usually within the space of five minutes.”
Hanif Kureishi is a playwright and novelist as well as a screenwriter, and his script has a lot of the theater about it, but unlike many such films, Le Week-End’s staginess does little to hinder its dynamic storytelling. As our couple struggles with their basic conflict through a series of monologues and repartees, the naturalism rarely disappears in favor of theatrical pretense. This is in part due to stunning performances from Broadbent and Duncan, both of whom bravely and fully occupy these roles completely. A few scenes even have real verisimilitude, like a particularly courageous one where Meg reveals herself to Nick and he begs for “just a sniff,” an intimate look at sexuality in an age group that is generally relegated to cinematic celibacy. By the film’s climax, a mildly disappointing sum-up at a party hosted by one of Nick’s old friends (Jeff Goldblum as the delightfully obnoxious Morgan), the couple’s future seems to be writ in stone: whatever their quibbles, whatever their ups and downs, these two will stay with each other forever because they couldn’t live without each other. As stated in a particularly witty (and very British) piece of dialogue, Meg tells Nick “You make my blood boil like nobody else,” to which he deftly replies, “The sign of a deep connection.” And that is truly this couple’s blessing and their curse, to be stuck with someone they love so dearly and hate so vehemently, until one of them dies. Whether this is an indictment of marriage or a naturalization of it is up for interpretation, but regardless, the emotionally bumpy ride is enjoyable and oddly courageous.