DIR: Roger Michell • WRI: Hanif Kureishi • PRO: Kevin Loader • DOP: Nathalie Durand • ED: Kristina Hetherington • MUS: Jeremy Sams • DES: Emmanuelle Duplay • CAST: Jeff Goldblum, Jim Broadbent, Lindsay Duncan, Olly Alexander
With a title like Le Week-End, it would not have been unreasonable to expect yet another film made up of smug cineliteracy and French New Wave referencing. Pleasantly, what we actually have here is a very genuine, occasionally funny, sporadically emotionally devastating and disarmingly naturalistic meditation on the frustrations and realities of long-term marriage and getting old.
Despite being billed as a romantic-comedy of sorts, Le Week-End has more of an existentialist leaning in regards to its portrayal of romance. And in terms of the comedic element it reaches an approximation of what a baby-boomer version of mumblecore humour might look like; complete with awkward silences, mumbles, fumbles and some expertly handled long-suffering-spouse routines from both Duncan and Broadbent. While some of the more obvious jokes boil down to ‘we are so old’ (cue complaints about youth, the failings of ones aging body or some misunderstanding that stems from the characters’ advanced years), these moments never feel contrived or desperate for a crowd-pleasing, belly-laugh response. This is definitely an amusing film but it never feels the need to force its comedy onto you; it’s a thoroughly relaxed affair.
The film’s meditation on romance and the idea of lifelong relationships arguably takes precedence over the comedy half of the so-called romantic-comedy. What appears on first glance to be the predicable arc of: dwindling romance/moment of revelation/new lease on life, quickly mutates into an all too real muddle of confused and often contradictory emotions. Even when Meg (Lindsay Duncan) delivers what should be a devastating piece of news, the characters simply continue to wade through the complicated emotional tangle of love and hate that makes up the relationship of two people who have been married for thirty years.
The film actively denies easy answers or any form of clear resolution to the characters’ troubled relationships and personal crises. Indeed, as it moves from its somewhat light first half into the far more emotionally charged and emotionally distraught second half, there is a steady but sustained creeping in of cynicism and apathy toward almost everything the characters embody or have ever embodied. Most notably how their presently safe and staunchly middle-class existence is viewed in a new light once Morgan (Jeff Goldblum) enters the story.
An old friend of Nick’s (Jim Broadbent) from his college days, Morgan’s presence brings up much reminiscing of Nick’s more rebellious youth and Meg’s ‘guerrilla feminism’ from her younger days. Their present stale, static and uneventful lives thrown into harsh contrast by what they once were in youth. Goldblum is, of course, his ever watchable self but here the trademark awkwardness is used to great effect in making him thoroughly irritating and nicely allowing him to embody the film’s view of what Paris is often portrayed as in film. As a successful writer of armchair politics he lives the life of wine-party hosting (attended by turtleneck-wearing intellectuals, of course), philosophising and general beard-stroking that he assumes Nick must also live.
The performative nature of this wine-party lifestyle is nicely drawn attention to when Nick, while trying to escape the aforementioned turtleneck-wearers at one such party, stumbles across Morgan’s neglected son hidden away in his room smoking pot and listening to same anti-establishment music Nick once enjoyed. Neatly paralleling Nick and Meg’s own son and the family issues back home which keep intruding upon their attempted Parisian break from reality. Nick has far more ease sharing an honest conversation with Morgan’s son (played by the perpetually ageless Olly Alexander; here sporting a flawless American accent) in contrast to his struggles to hold a conversation with Morgan. Despite only a few minutes of screen time together, the clear pairing of Broadbent and Alexander’s characters acts as a subtle reminder to the, ahem, younger viewers that this film is just as much a foreshadowing of your mildly depressing future as it is a meditation on the mildly depressing present of the baby boomer generation.
It could be argued that the ending finally gives in and becomes the kind of film implied in the title; carefree and slightly more cinematic/dreamlike than realistic. Given where the various characters find themselves emotionally, financially etc., ending the film ninety seconds earlier could have lent the film a more uncertain and pessimistic vibe which would have been in keeping with the increasingly cynical tone the film had been steadily establishing. It is a pity that the script doesn’t quite have the courage of its convictions to provide a more understated ending and instead lapses into the slightly saccharine final scene but it’s only a minor blemish on an otherwise thoroughly enjoyable film. The script is funny without being obnoxious and packs genuine emotion without becoming melodramatic. This is matched by the two leads who share an effortless and convincingly ‘lived-in’ chemistry with one another and who are surrounded by strong supporting performances by Goldblum and Alexander.
It may not end up on any all-time best lists but Le Week-End is a pleasant little gem of movie with a surprising amount of emotional weight.
15A (See IFCO for details)
Le Week-End is released on 11th October 2013