When director Roger Michell and screenwriter Hanif Kureishi team up for a film, which they’ve now done four times, they tend to explore the theme of relationships in late middle age, an area not covered very well in movies as a general rule. Their new film is called Le Week-End, and the subject is long-term marriage between people in their 60s. What keeps you together? Should you still even be together? If you’ve been married a long time, these are probably familiar thoughts. Having them portrayed convincingly on screen is refreshing.
The British couple in Le Week-End, Nick and Meg, are played by the veteran actors Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan. They’re returning to Paris, the place where they originally spent their honeymoon, for their anniversary. Relationships, of course, often come under stress during travel. Right away we can see the two revealing different agendas. Nick has made reservations at the hotel they stayed at when newly wed, but Meg is appalled at how cramped and uninspired it is, and quickly decides that they have to stay at a much nicer, and more expensive, place. This pattern repeats itself throughout the trip—Nick is a penny pincher, Meg is a spendthrift. It results in some awkward situations, including their sneaking out of an exorbitantly priced restaurant without paying the bill, running down the street laughing like teenagers. The film is brilliant at showing the way little squabbles and argument pop up between a couple every day—moments of togetherness alternating rapidly with moments of irritation and conflict.
The problems are more deep-seated, of course. Meg wants more intimacy and more fun; Nick wants sex. His career as a professor is ending with forced retirement; both are plagued with feelings of disappointment. These issues come into the open, not as you usually see it in dramas, with long impassioned scenes, but casually, right along with the good things, as in real life. Broadbent and Duncan are fantastic—you could swear they’re a real couple. And into the mix comes Morgan, an old friend and former student of Nick’s, now a celebrated author in Paris. Jeff Goldblum plays this character with marvelous aplomb, very charming but completely full of himself. Morgan has left his wife and married a much younger woman. When he looks for approval from Nick, the older man, tellingly, says that he doesn’t believe in just dropping one’s spouse like that. The film’s central sequence, the set piece, is a party at Morgan’s with a bunch of smart, trendy academics. And another common event that the film gets right—a couple getting into a really bad fight right before a big event or party—leads to something close to catharsis.
But rather than leaving us with a neat resolution, Michell and Kureishi are content to show that life, and marriage, go on. The journey of knowing one another, and for that matter ourselves, continues. It’s best to do so with understanding, and grace. Le Week-End, in its modest way, conveys a real sense of a couple’s acceptance and self-recognition.