With its innocents-abroad setup and its trio of over-the-hill lead actors, the opening scenes of Le Week-End scan like the first few lines of an extended, boring footnote to 2012's geriatric comic melodrama The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. However, once sixty-something English marrieds Nick and Meg (Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan, both excellent) arrive in Paris and finally take a good long look at their shabby hotel room, the film turns into something smarter and deeper.
Nick's fine with the rustic accommodations, but Meg's sigh shows that their 30th-anniversary retreat is as beige and bleak as the life they're trying to escape. Rather than feign enjoyment and contentment, Meg bolts. Nick, who it seems has grown accustomed to this move, catches her right before she disappears into a taxi. One speedy, heady cab ride through the city later, they end up at a much, much nicer place. A concierge sees them and offers them the Tony Blair Suite. The rooms look like they're completely out of their price range, but they take them anyway.
The class, money, and marital anxieties at work throughout these scenes are obscured by the film's ethnographic interest in documenting the behavior patterns of well-educated, middle-aged tourists. Nick and Meg reveal their distinct temperaments by fumbling with street maps, napping, exchanging cosmic musings during a visit to a cemetery, and standing in front of numerous restaurant windows.
These moments are not much to build a movie around; they may not be much to build a marriage around, either. Nick's and Meg's personalities clash loudly and frequently, and not in a friendly way. Whereas Meg is impulsive and acerbic, Nick, in spite of his occasional wandering eye, dotes on his wife and sees her as the one true object of his desire. Yet his casual flirtations and physical overtures are often rebuffed during conversations that alternate between callbacks to decades-old in-jokes and cutting personal insults. As troubling as their failure to reconnect is, their struggles fascinate; they reinforce Nick's earlier observation that "love is the only interesting thing."
They seem on the verge of patching things up when, out of the blue, Nick's former protégé Morgan (Jeff Goldblum) spots them on the street and invites them to dinner the following evening. Morgan's appearance (and Goldblum's curious, unpredictable, befuddled line readings) brings Le Week-End's other big subject — the slow erosion of 1960s utopian thinking — into focus. Morgan is a successful author, but his recent reinventions smack of confusion and desperation. Nick, a university professor at a nondescript college, expresses his personal failings, and regrets emerge as wistful contemplation or self-pitying bitterness. Meg, who's also a teacher, has valid reasons for her iciness toward Nick as well.
Late in their lives, these three former idealists are still searching for their youth, but it's been trapped forever in Bob Dylan songs and the films of the French New Wave. They may have conformed enough to survive, but they remain a band of outsiders; when the time comes, will they have the courage to do the Madison?
Opens Friday, April 18th
Ridgeway Cinema Grill