Upholding the current vogue of films both targeted at an older tier of cinemagoers and depicting the romantic ups and downs of characters in their autumn years, Le Week-End (2013) sees director Roger Michell teaming up once more with screenwriter Hanif Kureishi for another witty and jaggedly charming gander at identity and the processes of maturing somewhat gracefully. Two of their previous collaborations have focused on older characters reaching something of an impasse – from Anne Reid’s impassioned grandmother in The Mother (2003) to the late Peter O’Toole’s twinkly-eyed pensioner in Venus (2006).
Middle-aged Schoolteacher Meg (Lindsay Duncan) and philosophy professor Nick (Jim Broadbent) are first seen travelling on the Eurostar from London to Paris, an occasion Nick hopes to commemorate their anniversary and rekindle the spark in their otherwise routine – but no less affectionate – marriage. After fleeing the poky and all too beige hotel room Nick initially booked for an up-market suite overlooking the Eiffel Tower, the couple go about visiting and revisiting sites they once experienced in their younger, more exciting days, eating at fancy restaurants and ruminating on their time together whilst questioning the health of their current relationship.
Cracks begin to show as conversations oscillate between their numerous virtues and frustrations, namely Nick’s money-conscious, curmudgeonly nature and lackadaisical follow-through on his dreams and desires, and Meg’s blossoming reticence that has lead to feelings of remorse, resentment and boredom. These are only exacerbated when they bump into ex-New Yorker Morgan, an old university friend of Nick’s (Jeff Goldblum) who invites them to a party to celebrate his latest published collection of essays. Highlighting the dichotomies of Nick and Morgan’s mixed successes, the couple’s estrangement takes shape, allowing them both the opportunity to opine on their past whilst contemplate an unknowable future.
Tinged with the joie de vivre spirit of the Nouvelle Vague and bursting with typical Parisian iconography (jaunty accordion music, shots of the Eiffel Tower and even an homage to Godard’s Bande à part), Le Week-End sees Michell returning to a more organic type of story, far removed from the limp stateside excursions that were Morning Glory (2010) and the entirely misjudged Hyde Park on Hudson (2012). Very much in the vein of the emotionally resonant, walk-and-talk style recently perfected by Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy, Kureishi’s screenplay displays a nimble understanding of its central characters, carefully and somewhat effortlessly able to denote a wealth of Nick and Meg’s past with a simple handful of well-chosen lines.
This is considerably augmented by Broadbent and Duncan, who not only share an adroit chemistry but are extremely believable as a couple whose discourse fluctuates between sweet and sour. Yet, as the weekend goes on and their behaviour begins to become more erratic, due in part to their seasoned zest and desire to break the rules, the complications that slowly emanate sometimes feel forced and crammed in, a conscious way of ensuring the gleefully enigmatic finale is maintained. This, along with Michell’s propensity for base-level connotations, allows for awkward mood shifts that would be overly repetitive were it not for the mixture of sharp emotional truths and agile comedy extolled by Le Week-End’s double act.