Fiftysomethings Nick (Jim Broadbent) and Meg (Lindsay Duncan) are in a rut. He has just been terminated from his job as an academic after making an inappropriate comment to a female student. His wife, a biology teacher, is going through her own career issues. More importantly, their marriage is fraying at the seams. As a way of reviving their flagging relationship, they take off to Paris for a break, returning to the city where they honeymooned many years before.
They initially arrive at a hostel which they had stayed at years ago, but Meg turns up her nose at the Spartan accommodation and they up sticks to a more glamorous hotel, where they are offered a beautiful penthouse where Tony Blair once stayed. Meg is overjoyed. Nick is less sure. "As long as you change the sheets first," he snips.
Gradually, they begin to explore their new surrounds and are by turns charmed by the fabled city and agitated by old resentments and simmering tensions which have built up in their relationship.
The two-hander expands when they run into Morgan (a terrific Jeff Goldblum), a slick but somewhat glib academic and author who was something of a mentee of Nick's, but who has gone on to enjoy mainstream success which eluded his older colleague. He shoehorns them into attending a dinner party with his coterie of cosmopolitan pals, a development which intrigues the vivacious Meg but leaves the anxious Nick more perturbed than ever.
Le Week-End feels more like a snapshot in time than a traditional three-act story, as long-held frustrations wane as they wander through the city. The couple sense that they may have stayed together out of routine and fear of being alone rather than any great attachment. With their children having finally moved out of home, what, if anything, will keep them together? Nick suggests that he needs Meg, is hopeless without her. She wonders if a childlike dependence is a healthy basis for their ongoing relationship.
Le Week-End is set in the world's most romantic city and was directed by Roger Michell of Notting Hill fame, but this is no Hollywood confection. Instead, it has a messiness, looseness and a real honesty. Paris often looks more tired than idealised.
While not as flat-out brilliant as Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise trilogy, those films seem an obvious touchstone in their improvised-feeling dialogue and clear-eyed focus on the tribulations of long-term relationships. Broadbent and Duncan are tremendous as Nick and Meg, characters who are contradictory, vulnerable and at times, frankly irritating. It's rare to see older actors on screen who aren't supporting figures or comic relief, but real, flawed people.
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