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Entries in Le Week-end [2013] (1)

Friday
Mar212014

Le Week-end (2013)

Heavyweight Champs

I first saw Le Week-end at last year's Chicago International Film Festival. For ninety-three minutes, I thought of my wife, wishing we could share Roger Michell's exquisitely honest love letter to both Paris and the tarnished, golden handcuffs of marriage. But thanks to a quite healthy review embargo, I wasn't able to write about the film--nor see it again--for six months. Last week, we watched Le Week-end at home, via screener, and flashed each other knowing looks of horror and fondness, just as I'd predicted.

Lindsay Duncan and Jim Broadbent star as Meg and Nick, a verge-of-retirement English couple who spend their thirtieth anniversary retracing the steps of their fabulous Parisian honeymoon. Age has not been kind to their bodies, affections, or personalities. Despite the romantic city views, light accordion music, and occasional cute banter, writer Hanif Kureishi quickly does away with the notion of this being a cuddly love story about starry-eyed senior citizens.

Nick and Meg are middle-class warriors, aged artistic and intellectual rebels softened by time, kids, jobs, and partners who've lost the brazen luster of youth. For reasons that are revealed later, Nick reacts badly to Meg's impulsive need to stay at a hotel they can't afford and ditch the check at an upscale restaurant. She also suggests, during their anniversary dinner, that they might be better off apart. The old Nick, we're led to believe, might not have stood for such things--indeed, would probably not have had to with the old Meg. But decades of responsibility have drowned their dreams, and the rage they feel towards themselves and the world bursts out as passive aggressive rage at each other.

One evening, they run into Morgan (Jeff Goldblum), a wealthy and highly influential economics author who used to worship Nick at university. High-energy, recently divorced, and celebrating a new best-seller, he insists that Meg and Nick join him for a dinner party at his apartment the following night. They accept, and in the harsh light of other people, the couple's rampant insecurities nearly sink the proceedings. Meg flirts with a smooth-talking hot guy (Xavier De Guillebon), and Nick hides out with Morgan's teenage son (Olly Alexander), drinking and getting stoned. Though the trajectory is zeroed in on disaster, the party's outcome is far more touching and triumphant than one might expect. Many fights between long-term partners who really love each other don't often resemble scorched-earth movie blow-ups (like the ones in this film's spiritual predecessor, American Beauty)--and it's nice to see honesty on the big screen every once in awhile.

I take small issue with Le Week-end's resolution, and if you want to avoid spoilers, please skip ahead two paragraphs:

After trying to run out on the suite they've trashed and the credit-limit-leaping items they've charged to the room, Nick and Meg are detained by security and given a stern talking-to by the manager (Scali Delpeyrat). They defy him with a pair of "aw shucks" shit-eating grins and casually stroll to a cafe they can't afford to eat at. They sit for hours, nursing coffees and waiting for Morgan to show up and bail them out--which he does, before joining them in some spontaneous jukebox revelry.

I suppose we're meant to cheer for the protagonists here, but I found their behavior to be downright disgusting. Sure, the hotel could likely afford to repair and replace everything they'd broken or stolen. But as educated people, they should know full well the moral transgressions they've committed. I think they do know, and they're fine stiffing some rich French jerks--because, hey, their other rich friend will simply bail them out. I'm glad these characters' gross sense of entitlement didn't reveal itself until the last five minutes, because it just about turned the movie around for me.

Perhaps it's a testament to Broadbent and Duncan's powerfully understated acting that I was on-board with pretty much everything Nick and Meg wanted to do. Broadbent plays a cowardly lion who's been beaten down into a pussycat, after years of talking about dreams but never pursuing them. His fecklessness belies a mind that could conquer universes, if only it didn't have to deal with other people. 

Duncan plays complex notes of disappointment and anger that come out even when she's ostensibly enjoying all the opulence Paris has to offer. Meg is adventurous, opinionated, and wild--or at least, she was, before marrying a guy who turned out to not be so bold, and having a kid who can barely support his young family. Her condition is not so much impotent rage as it is inconsolable disappointment that manifests as mania.

You might wonder why I'd ever want to watch such a film with my wife. The answer is simple: I'm in love with her. And that means sometimes our life together sucks. After nearly ten years of marriage and five more years of being together, our path to happiness has become far less certain, and littered with intimidating obstacles neither of us could have foreseen when we first made eyes at each other. We argue; we go off silently into our corners; we worry; we complain. But we also write daily affirmations of what we love about one another on our bedroom wall and make catty comments about awful TV.

In short, we can relate to Le Week-end. As horrifying as that may seem, it's also quite comforting.

Chicagoans: you can catch Le Week-end on the big screen starting today at Landmark's Century Centre Cinema on Clark Street, and at the Cinearts 6 in Evanston. It will open on Friday, March 28th at Highland Park's Renaissance Place Cinama.