Le WeekendMarch 1, 2014
To turn from Gloria to Le Weekend is to become conscious of the gulf that separates 58 from the mid-60s. Instead of the problems of being a single mature-age woman, we meet with the frustrations of a couple who have been yoked together for 30 years, to the point where they can hardly imagine themselves as individuals.
Meg and Nick Burrows have come to Paris to celebrate their 30th anniversary. It is supposed to be a romantic weekend but they are carrying far too much emotional baggage. Nick has just been dismissed from his post as a philosophy lecturer in a Birmingham polytechnic, while Meg is fed up with her job as a school teacher. Their son is a dead loss who still depends on his parents for a hand-out. Worst of all, they are trying to decide whether they love or loathe each other. The trip began as an attempt to rekindle romance, but by the end of the weekend it may be 30 and out.
Although this sounds depressing, Le Weekend is actually a comedy, full of mordant wit, crisp exchanges and unexpected twists. It must be one of Hanif Kureishi’s best-ever scripts, providing a perfect vehicle for two accomplished character actors – Lindsay Duncan and Jim Broadbent – who provide an utterly convincing portrayal of a marriage falling into disrepair.
Much of the comedy springs from the contrast between Parisian sophistication and the mediocrity of Meg and Nick’s life in Birmingham. It becomes intolerable to Meg when Nick is asking her what kind of tiles she has chosen for the bathroom at home. As their exchanges become more fraught she has the urge to bring everything down in flames, spending their paltry savings on one magnificent binge.
Nick is a study in disappointment. Well versed in Joyce, Sartre and Wittgenstein, he has never fulfilled his youthful promise. His intellect has been squandered in the provinces and his soul has shrivelled. Meg feels she has been dragged down into the mire with him, and wonders if she still has time to clamber out. Her slightly wavering belief is that one is never too old to embrace life and find fulfilment.
While Meg and Nick are arguing the pros and cons of separation, and spending money they don’t possess, they run into Morgan, (Jeff Goldblum) an American ex-pat with whom Nick studied at Cambridge. Needless to say, Morgan’s life has been one long cavalcade of success. His books are best-sellers in New York and Paris. He is the centre of a coterie of intellectuals, and is recently married to a sexy young woman half his age.
Morgan has an exaggerated affection for Nick, whom he revered as a mentor at university. Nick feels envious of his friend, but also slightly embarrassed by the big raps being handed out. Morgan invites the couple to a party at his Rue de Rivoli apartment where the final act of this comedy-drama will be concluded. The scene around the dinner table, in which Nick confronts the ruin of his life, is one of those breathtaking, memorable moments that occur only rarely in contemporary cinema.
Another marvellous scene is a reference to Jean-Luc Godard’s Bande a part (1964), that manages to be charming rather than pretentious – which is more than can be said about any of Godard’s own movies from 1968 onwards.
Director, Roger Michell, is on much surer ground in this film than with Hyde Park on Hudson (2012), his flawed bio pic about Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Given that his greatest success was with the romantic comedy, Notting Hill (1999) it seems Michell is at his best when he keeps it light.
This is not, however, an entirely fair characterisation of Le Weekend, which balances comedy with a touch of gravitas. It is a small story, but one with universal relevance. Many couples will see themselves reflected in the bickering Meg and Nick, who are as inextricably connected as any couple in a play by Samuel Beckett – Nick’s “favourite author”.
The film suggests the futility of trying to recapture the passion of those first moments in a long relationship. Love grows like rust, weakening the host as it slowly spreads. Ultimately it seems impossible for one person to imagine life without the other, even when that other displays the most infuriating faults and insecurities.
Nick knows that he needs Meg, but she has convinced herself that he is an obstacle to that great, ineffable future she can’t quite visualise. Paris is the battleground for their confrontation and the catalyst that brings all the demons to the surface. It’s a fairy tale, but horribly true-to-life. A dream holiday takes two people to the brink of catastrophe and leaves them peering over the edge. But where better to spend your darkest hour than in the city of light?
UK, rated M
Directed by Roger Michell; written by Hanif Kureishi; starring Jim Broadbent, Lindsay Duncan, Jeff Goldblum
Published in the Australian Financial Review, Saturday 1 March, 2014.