Thursday, April 10, 2014

In 'Le Week-End,' love is a battlefield — even in Paris

Marriage is not a pop song. Love does not keep us together. The hard work it requires causes stress fractures and fault lines.

The longtime marriage in "Le Week-End" is at a tipping point. And the next 48 hours will determine which way it falls.

Because it is being spent in the most romantic city in the world, the outcome seems to be a no-brainer. But not even Paris can gloss over how this couple's banter and familiarity have turned into bickering and discontent.

This heartbreakingly hilarious third collaboration by "Notting Hill" director Roger Michell and "My Beautiful Launderette" screenwriter Hanif Kureishi, reflects the sort of graceful clarity and discipline that the 60-something married couple, played by Jim Broadbent and veteran British TV actress Lindsay Duncan, lack.

They know each other so well that they choose to misunderstand everything the other says or does. He has turned fawning and needy; she has turned brittle and says his embrace is "like being arrested." They are visiting Paris, a holiday they can't really afford, for their 30th anniversary, traipsing through museums, lingering in restaurants and turning the city's pleasures into a battleground. They eat and drink with little merriment. Instead, snatches of complaint and argument reveal the chasm between them.

And yet marriage is not the problem; it's their lives. She's fighting for the sliver of individuality marriage can smother; he clings to her "like a drowning man to a shelf of melting ice."

"Love dies," she snarls. "Only if you kill it," he barks.

Such back-and-forth, sometimes drowned out by ambient noise and English accents, is acidly delivered by hangdog, stubble-chinned Broadbent and stone-faced Duncan, set against a spectacular City of Lights that beckons at every turn.

An energetic Jeff Goldblum, Broadbent's old college chum, is the deus ex machina with a young wife, luxury flat and a lucrative career, but whose success comes at the cost of the sense of connection that causes and allows people in love to also be at each other's throats.

The film's harried travelogue quality recalls Steve Coogan's "The Trip," the vexed spouses suggest Neil Simon's "The Out of Towners" and the shambling human comedy is the stuff of Woody Allen.

"People don't change," Broadbent argues. "They do," counters Duncan. "They get worse."

Because it's the only way old dogs will ever learn new tricks.

Le Week-End★★★1/2

A British couple in their 60s goes for a weekend in Paris to celebrate their anniversary, revisiting a trip they had taken many years before. Nick (Jim Broadbent) is a philosophy professor, and Meg (Lindsay Duncan) is a teacher. One moment it appears that they are happy together, joking and laughing, then it seems like their marriage could be tearing apart at the seams. These are not cutesy people in late-middle-age—they fight and swear and criticize. Their exchanges are intense and brutal and loving and funny and furious as they look at their life together. “You can’t not love and hate the same person,” Nick states. The trip is a testing of their bond. They have shared a lifetime of experiences and joy and disappointments. The film is charming but it isn’t sweet, and the terrific leads perfectly show the complexity of a couple in a long-term marriage.  —— by GILLIAN ANDERSON

Director: Roger Michell

Producer: Philip Knatchbull, Sue Smith, Louisa Dent, Bertrand Faivre and Kevin Loader

Cast: Jim Broadbent, Lindsay Duncan, Jeff Goldblum, Olly Alexander, Xavier de Guillebon, Brice Beaugier, Marie France Alvarez, Sebastian Siroux

Behind the scenes: Produced by Kevin Loader. Written by Hanif Kureishi. Directed by Roger Michell.

Rated: R; language, sexual references

Approximate running time: 93 minutes