Marriage takes a beating in Le Week-End

An anniversary trip turns into an existential crisis for the characters and the audience.

I’ve been married to my lovely wife Heidi for four and a half years, which I’ve been told still makes us marriage babies. There’s apparently nothing like spending three decades with a person to really test the depth of your devotion. As of now, I find my wife’s quirks charming, with her neuroses providing an endless riddle I’m constantly trying (and failing) to solve. I trust she would say something similar about me. But how long until we tire of each other’s peccadillos? Judging from the way the married couple at the heart of Le Week-End relates to each other, we’ve still got some time before it all turns to shit.

For Nick (Jim Broadbent) and Meg (Lindsay Duncan), things took that turn for the awful some time ago. Though they project the dignified air of a scholarly older British couple, these people are damaged in innumerable ways, and seem determined to quit staring and start jumping into the abyss. They’re broke, Nick has just lost his teaching job, and the long teeth of old age are gnawing off a bigger chunk of their vitality with each passing day. These people are suffocating.

To make matters worse, Nick and Meg seem incapable of simply getting along. When we first meet the unhappy couple, they’ve just arrived in Paris to celebrate their wedding anniversary. From the start we sense that things are amiss. The hotel Nick booked (he thinks it’s where they spent their honeymoon, Meg’s not so sure) is a shoebox, and the pair end up tooling around Paris in a taxi until Meg decides to impulsively charge a five-star room (the desk clerk tells her Tony Blair slept there) to her credit card.

Nick and Meg are prone to mood swings, which makes their exploration of Paris a roving battle of wits that leaves them both repeatedly wounded. One moment they might share a joke, but it’s inevitably followed by a cutting dig. Deep down, you sense that they hate one another, but they also can’t seem to live without each other. Le Week-End takes its time in revealing some of the backstory that has led to the current moment, but there are no huge bombshells. (The one real stark accusation turns out to be false.) More than anything, Nick and Meg just seem tired — of marriage, of each other, of life in general.

A chance meeting with an old friend (Jeff Goldblum, enjoying something of a comeback with this film and Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel) leads the couple to a dinner party populated by younger people, and Nick and Meg slowly unravel. The scene culminates in a speech by Nick that lays bare all the ways he’s screwed. The rest of the guests awkwardly stare at their plates. I could relate. Le Week-End as a whole make me feel the same way.

That’s not to say that this is a bad movie. On the contrary, Le Week-End is well acted and directed, makes excellent use of the Parisian local color, and features a smart and wise script by Hanif Kureishi. I sense that older married couples will like it a lot. That said, for the entire second half of the film I wanted to slap these people. Can’t they see the beauty in their relationship? Or that it’s worth saving? And is it really this impossible to have perspective on aging while you’re actually doing it?

Le Week-End ends on a somewhat nebulous note, and I think it’s an open question as to what comes next for these characters. I want to believe that they find a way to persevere, largely because I want to believe that my wife and I will do the same. I’m think Heidi and I will make it. As for Nick and Meg? On that I’m not so sure.

Joe Bardi is the Digital Managing Editor for ABC 7 WWSB in Sarasota. Follow him on Twitter @JoeBardi.

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