What do you do when you have been married for 30 years and the magic is wearing thin? Take a trip to Paris, naturally. And so Nick (Oscar-winner Broadbent) and Meg (Duncan) head to the city of lights to spend their wedding anniversary at the same hotel they once honeymooned in. But everything goes wrong — not least because Meg appears to be a crusty and unwilling participant in this ‘romantic’ getaway.
Written by English novelist and screenwriter Hanif Kureishi, Le Week-End is not your average romcom. On the contrary, this is a nuanced love story for mature audiences, so do not expect silliness or slapstick. Nick and Meg are an older, academic couple from Birmingham. Their prickly banter begins early on in the film where they bicker on the train about who has the Euros, and Meg buries her nose in a book and tries to ignore Nick. This is how director Roger Michell (also behind the popular 1991 romcom Notting Hill) sets the tone for the entire disastrous weekend.
When the couple arrives at their hotel, they each lug inexplicably huge suitcases up the stairs, only to find the accommodations they remembered fondly completely unenchanting. Meg complains that the room is “too beige”. They leave and, throwing caution to the wind, book an expensive luxury hotel elsewhere in Paris — Meg’s idea of course. One starts to feel a little sorry for Nick – who incidentally plays Bridget’s dad in Bridget Jones’s Diary – as anything he does elicits a complaint of some sort from his wife. We quickly discover that this couple has many, many years of pent-up dissatisfaction and unfulfillment to work through.
At the same time, anyone in a long-term relationship will appreciate their situation — comfort in familiarity and frustration with predictability. Nick and Meg have no physical relationship, even taking into account their age. One particularly memorable exchange is when Nick, clearly still attracted to his well-preserved wife, says, “Can I touch you?” She replies curtly, “What for?” Ouch.
But the film changes slightly in tone when the unhappy couple runs into an old acquaintance of Nick’s. Morgan (Goldblum) is a fellow academic, albeit an overly smooth, chatty one. He invites them over to a dinner party at his expensive apartment to meet his much-younger, pregnant second wife and hip friends.
This soiree is the excruciating, yet infinitely watchable, climax of the film. Long-term disappointment and buried insecurities come bubbling to the surface in a drunken impassioned dinner toast by the browbeaten Nick, much to the embarrassment of his icy wife. It is both wonderful and horrible to watch.
Le Week-End is not unlike Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight (2013) with this longtime couple moving through intense ‘relationship’ dialogue – sometimes witty, usually uncomfortable – against a dynamic European backdrop. If there is one word that describes this highly recommended tragicomedy, it is bittersweet. This film’s revelations, which can arguably only be delivered by mature, older actors, present us with insightful nuances and awkward truths about both the fragility and resilience of long-term relationships.