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

Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan play a middle-aged couple who may not last during their anniversary getaway in "Le Week-end."

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.

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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

 
 
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