Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Le Week-End Movie Review

I wonder if there re more long-time married couples who grate on each other’s nerves almost constantly than ones who, in that clichéd way, still love each other like they did when they first got married. I think I’ve lways been cynical about this, but it seems nearly impossible to spend thirty-plus years with someone, with all the compromise, dreams deferred, and just plain putting up with minor irritations that eventually balloon into major offenses, without building up a foundation weakened by resentments (however big or small) and displeasure. These couples do tend to make for more interesting drama anyway. In Le Week-End, a British couple whose children are grown and recently departed take an anniversary trip to Paris where they last visited for their honeymoon. Though it’s not explicitly expressed, this seems to be a trip designed for relationship revitalization. But ny two people who have been at each other’s throats for as many years as they have are likely to continue the practice on a weekend getaway.

Roger Michell has a habit of taking otherwise ordinary and mundane stories and presenting them as not spectacular, but deeply real. His actors, Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan as Nick and Meg, are his greatest assets in Le Week-End. They have beautiful chemistry together, whether it’s bickering over the trivial, Nick acquiescing to irrational demands in order to avoid an argument, exploding over long-felt and unspoken issues with the potential to end the marriage, or, yes, loving each other occasionally. It’s not all spiteful and gloomy. They have their moments of forgetting their disdain. However they’re behaving and whatever the situation, Broadbent and Duncan play it as if they’ve lived their characters’ lives and embodied these feelings themselves.

The Paris setting is at once clichéd and ironic. There is no city in the world more fabled for romanticism. It’s the quintessential romantic getaway destination. And to be sure, it’s gorgeous to look at even though Michell and his cinematographer Nathalie Durand don’t focus on the usual trappings. Sacre Coeur and the Eiffel Tower are visible in the background of shots, but are never the stars of the show. Michell keeps them on the streets, in the hotel, and in the classy French restaurants that make up the heart of the city. That it is the destination location for a couple coming apart at the seams and that it helps bring to the surface hidden agendas serves as a rejoinder to the common view of the City of Light as pure magic.

The real coup the movie achieves is in an American character named Morgan (played by Jeff Goldblum), a former colleague of Nick’s, who accidentally encounters them on the street. Goldblum drives energy into the scene and, by extension, the rest of the movie. Without his presence, it would have started to flag. He invites them to a dinner party the following night, attended, like a contemporary version of a 1920s Paris party that might have been populated with the literary elite of Hemingway and Fitzgerald, by Morgan’s erudite artist and political friends. Morgan likes surrounding himself with greatness and Nick is surprised to learn in what esteem Morgan always held him. Morgan is newly married with a baby on the way, even while he’s estranged from his former wife and has a teenaged son who visits from New York, but remains cloistered in his bedroom. Projecting an image of joie de vivre and exuberance becomes Morgan’s way of covering up just how insecure and scared he is in life. As fun as it is watching Goldblum manipulate and create this character, you can’t escape the fact that Morgan is a plot device designed as the impetus for dragging Nick and Meg from a slump.

Michell and screenwriter Hanif Kureishi have collaborated before, most recently on Venus, a romantic film of an altogether different stripe. Kureishi’s stories are touchingly realistic and strike at the heart of that part of being human that gives us the capacity to love and also to injure. Le Week-End isn’t groundbreaking and nor is it likely to become a revered classic, but for the moment it’s good storytelling with three fantastic central performance to drive it along.

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