Review: ‘Le Week-End’ is an enjoyably grumpy marriage movie

Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan play unhappy marrieds in "Le Week-end." Credit: Music Box Films
Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan play unhappy marrieds in “Le Week-end.”
Credit: Music Box Films

‘Le Week-End’
Director: Roger Michell
Stars: Lindsay Duncan, Jim Broadbent
Rating: R
3 (out of 5) Globes

“Le Week-End” isn’t a heavy survey of marriage like Roberto Rossellini’s “Journey to Italy,” but it’s also not a trite, reassuring ode to holy matrimony, like a glorified sitcom. If it has any close relative in the marital movie family tree, it’s not too far from Stanley Donen’s shockingly scathing “Two for the Road,” where we jump around the timeline of the severely bumpy union between Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney. It’s about as brutally honest, but it’s decidedly smaller in its ambitions. Set over three days, it’s a grouchy, funny-depressive jag about a couple who realize, quite late in life, they may not have much fuel left in their relationship. As with Hepburn and Finney, there’s no assurance they’ll make it to the end of the film, or even after film’s end.

In the case of Meg (Lindsay Duncan) and Nick (Jim Broadbent), there’s not much reason to stay together. The kids are grown, and their 30 years have been an apparent slow decline into mediocrity, in love as well as life. They decide to half-assedly kick things up a notch by spending their anniversary in the Montmartre section of Paris, the location of their honeymoon. They’re not the type for fights, or even nasty insults. That would require passion. They’re into light bickering. She’s immovable, he gets frustrated and shuts down, and that’s where a once ambitious, swaggering couple is after three decades.

The rest of the film finds them hesitantly, sometimes effusively swinging back into gear, then falling out again, then crawling back up, only to get knocked down once more, and so forth. Nick, once an academic star who sold out as a small-time teacher, still has some kick in him. As played by Broadbent in one of his most personable performances, he’s not quite a doormat. He’s just learned over years to compromise, and it’s eaten away at most of what makes him special. Meg gets excited on the few instances his old self reappears, but she herself has calcified into a winningly sour snarler of hilariously mordant one-liners. She doesn’t mind saying he’s a “f—ing idiot sometimes,” and not affectionately, though not all of her abuse is towards him. “People don’t change,” he reassures her at one point. “They do,” she retorts. “They get worse.”

These unhappy one-liners come courtesy of novelist Hanif Kureishi, reuniting with the director, Roger Michell, who tackled two very different Kureishi scripts: “The Mother” and “Venus.” Michell is a chameleon — his last film was the FDR handie misfire “Hyde Park on Hudson” — but he’s alive here, shooting his actors in ways that almost ignore them: placing them in dim rooms, shooting from far away, positioning them in askew places in the frame. He’s lifting from the French New Wave, if just in spirit, though his one direct reference to their films is far, far too cute: Nick and Meg recreate the “Madison” dance from “Band of Outsiders. But there are pockets of freewheeling energy; it’s the kind of film that eventually gets briefly kidnapped by Jeff Goldblum (as an old friend).

For all its honesty, “Le Week-end” still feels, in spots, lazy. As with “Venus,” Kureishi doesn’t try to transcend all cliches and sentimentality, or even most of them. The nadir is a toast Nick makes about all that’s wrong with his life. Broadbent delivers it well — because Broadbent can do anything — but the film is at its best when it’s enjoyably miserable, hanging with two actors as they fire off overcast jokes, struggling to re-connect. Broadbent’s excellence is predictable, but Duncan has never had a showcase like this for her apparently considerable talents. (She certainly didn’t have the chance in “About Time,” where she played the token ignored mother.) The more she doesn’t melt for her husband, the more lovable she becomes. Ditto the film.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

'Suspicious' Hamilton Heights fire caused by power strip:…

An extension cord overload caused the deadly fire in Hamilton Heights late Monday that killed a 15-year-old girl and injured at least 12 others.

National

At 91, Marvel creator Stan Lee continues to…

By Piya Sinha-RoyLOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Marvel Entertainment's chief emeritus Stan Lee may be in his ninth decade, but it hasn't stopped him from adding…

National

Islamic State says beheads U.S. journalist, holds another

Islamic State insurgents released a video purportedly showing the beheading of U.S. journalist James Foley, who had gone missing in Syria nearly two years ago.

Local

VIDEO: NYPD seeks shooter in East New York…

Cops are on the lookout for an unknown shooter who aimed and missed hitting a man on a bicycle, instead nearly striking a nearby officer in East New York.

Movies

Interview: Jessica Alba is a stripper again in…

Jessica Alba has gotten used to vague phone calls from director Robert Rodriguez, the Austin-based auteur who has made a habit of putting Alba into…

Movies

Interview: Robert Rodriguez doesn't mind that Jessica Alba…

In making a Hollywood-friendly adaptation of Frank Miller's gritty "Sin City" graphic novel series, Robert Rodriguez learned that some things have to go — namely…

Television

TV watch list, Wednesday, Aug. 20: 'Extant,' 'Legends'…

See a two hour block of Halle Berry's scifi show, "Extant."

The Word

The Word: Mischa Barton in trouble, not that…

  People are really, really worried about Mischa Barton. Again. The former "O.C." star is reportedly in deep financial trouble and can't seem to get…

NFL

2014 Fantasy Football: Rankings, list of top NFL…

2014 Fantasy Football: Rankings, list of top NFL defense (DEF)

NFL

2014 Fantasy Football: Rankings, list of top NFL…

2014 Fantasy Football: Rankings, list of top NFL quarterbacks (QB)

MLB

Shane Greene travels unlikely road to Yankees stardom

Shane Greene was throwing a bullpen session on a quiet field at Daytona Beach Community College one day when the ball started moving.

NFL

2014 Fantasy Football: Rankings, list of top NFL…

2014 Fantasy Football: Rankings, list of top NFL tight ends (TE)

Parenting

Fun family activity: Off-Broadway show for pre-teens

"The Love Note" is an off-Broadway musical your pre-teen won't roll his or her eyes at.

Parenting

Barnes & Noble partners with Samsung to release…

Barnes & Noble releases the first full android tablet optimized for reading.

Style

11 timeless gifts for registries or just because

Gifts to prove you're a style maven once and for all.

Food

The Chic Wife tells us how to use…

Kris Schoels, aka The Chic Wife, grew up on a farm with peach trees. August is National Peach Month, but Kris Schoels doesn’t need a reason…