It is the August of their lives, and elderly couple Nick (Jim Broadbent) and Meg (Lindsay Duncan) are absolutely lost. They’re attempting to go on holiday, during what we’re to imagine is one of the quietest moments in their shared life. The abrasiveness of Meg’s jokes suggests that things were never going well between the two, but they were at least “going.” Now, in one of the harsher exchanges of “Le Week-End,” Meg considers Nick’s hugs to make her feel like she’s being “arrested.” He humors her because, why shouldn’t he? Nick doesn’t have to say anything, but Broadbent’s eyes are enough to convey that this woman is all he has.
Roger Michell’s new film gains traction by observing Broadbent’s hangdog features. No one in contemporary film conveys quite as much sadness as Broadbent does when he looks up, his bulbous neck swollen with all the words he just could never say. Your grief for this man is never overwhelming due to those intelligent eyes, but Michell finds a way to flirt with those limits. Throughout half of “Le Week-End,” Nick’s eyes are hopelessly affixes to Meg’s beauty, which even in her later years hasn’t abandoned her, nor has she lost her figure. Ms. Duncan is still vivacious in her advanced age, but through Broadbent’s eyes she remains the prettiest girl at the party.
Nick doesn’t need to tell Meg anything for her to know that their world is coming down. Not only is he being forced out of his professor job by a suggested “early retirement,” but he has to cope with a ne’er-do-well son who apparently wishes to move back in. Nick thinks he and Meg are visiting Paris to pretend their troubles are a world away, but he’s frozen when Meg suggests that their relationship has run its course, breaking the news as if an animal has died. Nick receives this information as if it’s just another indignity in a long line; this is a man who treasures what little he has, knowing it’s all about to run away from him.
Michell’s handling of the relationship between the two is touching in how little judgment he passes. Certainly there’s something torturous about Meg’s ongoing temptation of the man she has just spurned. Rejection has its power, and Michell makes sure to position Duncan at the top or foreground of the frame, Broadbent in the back. But both Nick and Meg are in denial: Nick attempting to forget that he is aged and unwanted, Meg that she’s wasted her prime years as a seductress. Together, their trip becomes a drastic departure, as they spend untold amounts of money and relive their youth. A moment when they clumsily bail on an expensive check suggests that, were the practicality of life sorted out, this would be a genuine romance, and not what appears to be a marriage of semi-convenience.
Jeff Goldblum pops up halfway through this confused crossroads. He plays a character named Morgan, and audiences may be divided over a few things. Is this major Hollywood star a distraction? And is there anything negative about the fact that he is a distraction? If Jeff Goldblum wandered into any film, playing a thinly-disguised version of himself and proceeded to have a relationship with the characters therein, is it an issue? Goldblum, forever one of the most watchable actors on screens big and small, plays a former protégé of Nick’s, now living a rich Bohemian lifestyle in Paris with a young, arresting wife. All the famous Goldblum tics are there: the half-concerned three-finger temple massage, the halted diction, the completely gratuitous mid-sentence shoulder shrugs.
Morgan’s serendipitous appearance in the narrative allows Nick and Meg to take their dysfunction to the film’s climactic dinner party, just as frustration is bubbling over—Meg’s sexy heels prompt a deluded Nick to ask, “Did you buy those for me?” when he already knows the answer. At this dinner party is what feels like the inevitable culmination of the “Before Sunrise” movies, as the barbs of “Le Week-End” are oddly depicted lovingly: Michell has created a film where cruelty has become a warm blanket for desperate spouses, and there is poetry to that. This couple stares into the apocalypse, and to each of them it reminds of something different, but at the very least, therein lies comfort that they do it together. [A-]
This is a reprint of our review from the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival.