As a pretty hardcore auteurist — fully believing that film is largely a director’s medium — it’s odd for me to confess that that the first thing about Le Week-End that drew my attention was not the name of director Roger Michell but that of screenwriter Hanif Kureishi. Kureishi made his mark with his two screenplays: My Beautiful Laundrette (1985) and Sammy and Rosie Get Laid (1987), for Stephen Frears. After that, his career took a nose-dive with the little-seen (but very good) London Kills Me (1991), which he also directed. He came back with the TV miniseries of his novel The Buddha of Suburbia (1993), which marked his first collaboration with Roger Michell. Now, he and Michell are on their fourth collaboration with Le Week-End, and while Michell’s direction is stylish, assured, even sparkling and magical, it really seems to me that Kureishi’s screenplay is responsible for so much of what works. The humanity and the incisive, bittersweet dialogue is at the core of the film. And yet there’s plenty to praise here from the direction to the performances of Jim Broadbent, Lindsay Duncan and Jeff Goldbum to the luminous cinematography of Nathalie Durand.
Le Week-End is the story of an aging British couple — Nick (Broadbent) and Meg (Duncan) — who have gone to Paris for a weekend in an attempt to rekindle their (at best) tepid marriage by revisiting the places where they spent their honeymoon. It will come as no surprise to anyone, except perhaps the characters, that the reality proves much less appealing than the memories. Their old hotel is something of a shambles — enough of one, in fact, that Meg stalks off to a posh hotel they can’t afford. The reality is that they can’t afford it more than she knows, since Nick has been sacked (or forced into early retirement) from his teaching position for making “inappropriate” comments about a black girl’s hair. He has kept this information to himself in order to not spoil the weekend. The weekend, however, seems intent on spoiling itself — not in the least because the 60-year-olds are no longer in their 20s.
This may sound on the grim side, or even on the soapy side, but Kureishi’s screenplay prevents it from being either. There are amazing jolts of life around some corners, and there is no shortage of barbed quips in the script’s arsenal. Even as their marriage seems to disintegrate, there is a sense of connectedness between the two — the kind that comes from years of shared experiences. In this case, some of it is drawn from the French new wave cinema that seemed to promise so much in their youth. A scene from Jean-Luc Godard’s Band of Outsiders (1964) even becomes a kind of motif, and this pays huge dividends before the film is over.
Kureishi’s secret weapon — apart from the fact that the script constantly veers off in unexpected directions — is the introduction of Jeff Goldblum as an old academic friend named Morgan. He bumps into them quite by chance and insists on them coming to his party. Morgan may have started out much the same as Nick, but he’s become famous, admired, wealthy and more than a little full of himself. He’s also married to a young woman and openly admits that she will one day figure out that he isn’t as great as she thinks he is. He has a son (a touching performance from Olly Alexander, Great Expectations) who would probably like him better if he were less successful and more like Nick. Underneath it all, it’s obvious why Morgan clings so desperately to Nick, Meg and their past: It was the last time he felt comfortable. Where all this is leading and how it gets there belongs to the film, but the trip is a rewarding one that ends on a note of bittersweet magic that is hopeful without being the least gooey. You need to see this film — and don’t dismiss it because you’re not 60. You may better understand those who are, and you may just be getting a glimpse into your future. Rated R for language and some sexual content.
Starts Friday at Carolina Cinemas.