If Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy continue on with their acclaimed Before ____ series, one might think that a future installment, say in 20 years or so, might look something like Le Week-End (they could call it Before Senility, hee hee). This film, from director Roger Michell and writer Hanif Kureishi (Venus) in their fourth collaboration, is an enjoyable tale of a couple (Jim Broadbent, Lindsay Duncan) who are revisiting Paris on their 30th anniversary to try to rekindle their fading marriage. Le Week-End is an exploration of the difficulties present in maintaining a long-term union, and whether or not it’s still worth fighting for. It’s buoyed by the two fine central performances, that spend most of the film showing us how well, and how little they really know each other.
Broadbent is Nick Burroughs, a man clinging to both his marriage and his job as a professor of philosophy, not looking to make waves in either, even as his statuses in both are looking shaky at best. Duncan is his wife, Meg, a teacher, who is looking for a later-life Renaissance, now that she and Nick are finally on their own. She’s wanting some changes, and not sure if Nick is going to be able to make them with her, or if that will stop her from making them on her own if he isn’t. The trip to Paris is an attempt to get away from their situations for a bit, yet ends up turning into a direct referendum on them. It’s an attempt to rediscover their marriage, yet turns out to be more a discovery of new things, both positive and negative. And just when things seem to possibly be sorting themselves out, Jeff Goldblum comes along as Morgan, an old fellow student of Nick’s and and turns the whole thing on its head. His invitation to them for a dinner party he’s throwing is when things long not said between Nick and Meg bubble to the surface and that will decide the fate of their union.
Roger Michell is a savvy enough filmmaker to know to basically hang back enough to let Broadbent and Duncan quarterback this thing. Their expedition through the streets of Paris mirror their search along the avenues of their marriage. At times in both, they come to places that are wonderful, and other times, not so much. In the case of their marriage, like very not so much. The details of where they are in their lives aren’t anything extraordinary, but the way that they come to address them and discover where each other are really coming from is a film-long process. There are family issues between them, job issues, life issues, nuptial issues. There are as many ups and downs in their relationship in the svelte 90-minute running time as there are steps leading up to Sacre-Coeur (FYI, I’ve done that climb up to that cathedral. If you’re contemplating it…bring oxygen). Goldblum comes in to relief pitch as only he can when things start to settle and sends the film to another level.
This is of course a talky pic, but Hanif Kureishi’s script keeps things moving and the real delights are when the two main characters manage to surprise each other, both by words and by actions. The dialogue really escalates at the dinner party, in conversations with other people surprisingly, and some climactic mea culpas emerge. Broadbent and Duncan are simply great here; two old dogs (so to speak) who are trying desperately to learn some new tricks, avoid returning to some statuses quo in terms of their family and their jobs, but not always prepared for what that entails. Not sure if Delpy, Hawke and Linklater are contemplating a fourth installment; but if / until they do, Le Week-End has got the Before Monday spot nailed down already.