'Le Week-End': Twilight of a marriage among the cafes
Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke can relax. No need to hang around another 20 years waiting to shoot the senior citizen installment of their and Richard Linklater's evolution-of-a-relationship franchise, the Before (Sunrise, Sunset, Midnight) series.
Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan, in Le Week-End, have done it for them.
OK, that may be a bit glib, but the similarities are readily apparent. Nick and Meg Burrows (Broadbent, Duncan - both terrific), a British couple celebrating their 30th anniversary, head to Paris for a getaway, walking and talking (and running - we'll get to that) around Montmartre, Montparnasse, and other splendid precincts of the City of Light.
It's a lived-in marriage; they know each other's moves inside and out. Nick, a university professor facing retirement, is affable but aloof. Meg, a teacher, speaks her mind - bursts of affection, criticism, emotional weather reports. At times, she seems borderline bipolar. Much of what she says to Nick about their years together, their future, is hurtful.
How does he stand it? He loves her.
Charming and more than slightly alarming, then, Le Week-End tracks the Burrowses from their Chunnel ride into the French capital to their first hotel check-in (a disaster) to their posh digs at the Plaza Athénée, with a balcony looking out, lovingly, on the Eiffel Tower. They can't afford such luxury, but what the hey?
Directed in on-the-fly fashion by Roger Michell from a sharp screenplay by his Venus collaborator, Hanif Kureishi, Le Week-End is a mood-swinging meander through that most cinegenic of cities - and through the ups and downs of a relationship.
Nick and Meg duck into cafes and brasseries, delight in sumptuous soups and steaks, and tear out of a high-priced restaurant without paying the bill. It's a comic escapade that gets their hearts pumping and finds them on a street corner in a chance meeting with Nick's old Cambridge pal Morgan (Jeff Goldblum, buoyant and kooky). Morgan, an American ex-pat with a new, young French wife and an apartment in a tony arrondissement, invites Nick and Meg to a dinner party the next night.
There, the couple drink and chat with Morgan's artsy, intellectual coterie. One of them makes a pass at Meg, while Nick finds himself toking weed and commiserating with Morgan's teenage son (Olly Alexander), on a sulky visit from New York.
Then it's time for dinner, and the toasts. Nick's response to his college chum's effusive salute is the pivot point of the movie. He unleashes a scorched-earth self-appraisal, full of bitterness, regret, and rage: It's a shocker of a moment, and a triumph. Broadbent, always the character actor, never the lead, amazes.
For its keen, almost clinical, snapshot dissections, for the fearless performances of its two stars (Duncan, known mostly in the U.K. for her TV work, is a revelation), for its wistfulness, and its wisdom, Le Week-End is time well spent. Not exactly a breezy getaway, the film visits the sites, and drops down on rougher terrain, too.
Le Week-End *** (Out of four stars)
Directed by Roger Michell. With Jim Broadbent, Lindsay Duncan, Jeff Goldblum. Distributed by Music Box Films.
Running time: 1 hour, 33 mins.
Parent's guide: R (profanity, adult themes)
Playing at: Ritz Five, County Theater, Ambler Theater, and Bryn Mawr Film Institute