POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, May 2, 2014
"You can't not love and hate the same person," Nick says to Meg, the woman he has loved for more than 30 years. They are on an anniversary trip to Paris, celebrating a complicated but enduring and affectionate union. Nick's observation is more wry than anguished, and its implication of melodrama — evoking that famous "thin line" sung about by the Persuaders and the Pretenders — does not seem to apply to him and Meg. Played by Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan, they look like a modest, decent, likably scruffy couple, British baby boomers entering their sunset years with stoicism and good humor.
A mellow, playful, slightly melancholy atmosphere pervades much of "Le Week-End," the latest collaboration between screenwriter Hanif Kureishi and director Roger Michell. Surely the thin line Nick and Meg are walking is not between love and hate, but between contentment and disappointment. They set out on their holiday in possession of a collection of small, qualified triumphs: long careers as teachers (though Nick's has just ended on an unpleasant note), two grown sons (though one might be moving back in with them), enough money for this trip (though not perhaps the luxury they secretly crave).
But don't be fooled by Broadbent's genial sarcasm, Duncan's warm smile or the literary felicities of Kureishi's script. This is not a movie about the gentle aging of lovable codgers — "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. Underneath the banter is a half-buried spring of rage and regret, and before the trip is over, it will flood into the open. His neediness and her restlessness seem less and less complementary. "I've become a phobic object to you," he complains when she rebuffs his amorous advances, and she complains more and more vocally — even violently — about his stifling need for safety and stability. All of a sudden, rather than participating in the celebration of a long marriage, we seem to be witnessing its end.
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But maybe — to equivocate further — it's just Paris, which can have the effect of making ordinary feelings seem somehow more intense and everyday thoughts more profound. Beyond its sights and its history, the city appeals to tourists inclined to a particular form of solipsism. Sensory and aesthetic pleasures are not indulgent but important: You can sit in a cafe and feel like a philosopher, or amble down a narrow street and fancy yourself a revolutionary. Your marital squabbles can turn into folies d'amour. At the very least, you can pretend you're in a French movie.
"Le Week-End" is thoroughly and unassumingly British, but part of the baggage Nick and Meg carry is a generationally specific, politically tinged Francophilia. This is captured in a scene from Jean-Luc Godard's "Bande á Part," a still-vibrant document of youthful mid-'60s restlessness to which Michell alludes several times, including in his film's lovely final shot. If Meg is itching for a different future, Nick is at times lost in a reverie of the past. While she sleeps, he stays up late in their hotel room, drinking minibar whiskey and listening to Bob Dylan on his iPod. "How does it feel to be on your own?" He's terrified of finding out.
Nick, a self-described "anarchist of the left," is nervous about money, and it is Meg who manages to turn conspicuous consumption into an act of rebellion. Upon discovering that the charming Montmartre hotel they recall from an earlier visit is more ratty than quaint, she upgrades them to a suite at a far grander establishment. When their credit card is declined after a lavish dinner, she organizes a dine-and-dash operation. She is a freedom fighter, though she may be fighting, above all, to free herself from Nick.
Their dance of recrimination and reconciliation is interrupted by a chance encounter with Morgan (Jeff Goldblum), an old friend of Nick's from their student days at Cambridge. The contrast between the two men is almost too perfect. Morgan, lean, energetic and suavely dressed, is a happy sellout — a jet-setting policy intellectual with an apartment on the Rue de Rivoli, a best-selling book and a young, adoring, pregnant new wife. He admires Nick's integrity, though he doesn't seem to miss his own.
Morgan invites Nick and Meg to a party that is both climax and anticlimax, and as such is a testament to Kureishi's admirable habit of valuing revelations of character and setting more than the mechanics of plot. As they did in "The Mother" and "Venus," he and Michell allow audiences the leisure to get to know the people in "Week-End." We may even, at the end, want to know them better than we do, since, at the end, our sense of Nick and Meg — and of Morgan, who is more important than we might have thought — is both clarified and complicated. They still have such a long way to go.
Review by A.O. Scott, New York Times