Le Week-End garnered a reputation on the festival circuit as a kind of several-years-later Before Midnight, but it’s actually a chapter in a different, looser series. Like The Mother (2003) and Venus (2006), two earlier collaborations between director Roger Michell and novelist-playwright Hanif Kureishi, it’s an intimate account of aging and the toll it takes on love. It’s also the most conventional and complacent of the three films, following a British empty-nester couple on their 30th-anniversary weekend trip to Paris.
Nick (Jim Broadbent) is a professor being prodded into early retirement after making a racially insensitive remark to a student; his wife, Meg (Lindsay Duncan), is a teacher who thirsts for travel and adventure. Their French sojourn begins with the usual culture-clash and booking shenanigans. But once they settle into a pricey hotel suite they’re told was once occupied by Tony Blair, the fun ends and their problems—with work, children, suspected infidelity, and a sex life Nick wishes wasn’t nonexistent—become the subject of a feature-length argument, intermittently disrupted by breaks for mouth-watering haute cuisine. The recriminations become more fraught when the pair runs into Nick’s showboating American college chum (Jeff Goldblum, overacting an overwritten part), now a wealthy author who invites them to a party of intellectuals whose outward success casts Nick and Meg’s own troubles into sharper relief.
As always in these movies, such pretensions are only a façade—even the most seemingly polished character is secretly unfulfilled, and even the most ruffled is quietly content in spite of petty dissatisfactions. Having previously displayed a knack for evading saccharine material, Kureishi here shows a tendency to overplay his hand. “That’s us in 10 years,” Nick remarks, marveling at an older couple on the street. The duo’s longing for youth is bluntly symbolized when they watch Band Of Outsiders on TV. And there’s no tension that can’t be unearthed or resolved with a grandiose, climactic dinner toast. (Do people ever make these speeches in real life?) Broadbent and especially Duncan—playing a character who may no longer be attracted to her husband, yet is still wavering enough to convince him he has a chance—go a long way toward making the movie seem pricklier and more embittered than it turns out to be. But the end of Le Week-End reveals it to be the thoroughly ordinary melodrama a description suggests—a portrait of former ’60s fire-starters who are perfectly happy to settle for embers.