Too many marriages end over that one blunt accusation hurled on the way to court – “You never listen.”
And if every couple were as sharp, biting and witty as Meg and Nick in “Le Week-End,” there’d be no excuse for that. Two aging Brits on a last-ditch weekend trek to Paris to save their marriage, they may be the most quotable feuding couple this side of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.”
He (Oscar winner Jim Broadbent) is desperate to make one last throw of the dice to save them as a couple. Nick is wrapped up “in the physical dread of desertion.” And she (Lindsay Duncan of “About Time” and “Alice in Wonderland”) is the bored wife, the one desperate to do the deserting.
They’re in the City of Light, but he’s fretting over the cost of everything. And she’s willing to bail out of a budget hotel room over the fact that there’s no view and the walls are beige. No sense budgeting for dinner, either.
The writer and director of Peter O’Toole’s last good film, “Venus,” re-team here for a smart, snappy and deeply sad survey of a doomed marriage, a needy, clinging man and a wife who is by turns cruel, playful, dismissive – and needy herself.
“What gorgeous hell is this?” she asks at one point.
“They’re French. I’m sure their lives are awful, too.”
Nick and Meg are not new to Paris. They know which museums to hit, which meals have delighted them, which walks will restore their souls. And nothing is working. Meg wants thrills, novelty, adventure.
Director Roger Michell and screenwriter Hanif Kureishi treat this as a spirited, compact two-hander, basically a stage play with Paris scenery as its setting. Their insights on a marriage that cannot hit its reset button, the yearning escapism of vacation magnified by what this weekend will mean to the couple’s future, is amusing and discomfittingly on the money.
Nick and Meg cannot live in the past, cannot escape their present (phone calls from a mooch of a son interrupt some moments), cannot reconcile the fact that she’s made her mind up to move on unless they can find that one memory, or create one new one, to save them.
And then Nick’s old college chum shows up, and since he’s played by the bubbly, gregarious and all-embracing Jeff Goldblum, he’s sure to either re-ignite the sparks of their love or set off the bomb that tears them apart once and for all.
“Le Week-End” features another helping of reliably brittle and vulnerable work from Broadbent (“Iris,” “The Iron Lady”) and gives Duncan the chance to show a mercurial side in what must be her best big-screen role ever. And sure, Goldblum is always best at being Jeff Goldblum, and his oily/silky charm tends to unbalance the neat, brittle little tragedy we’re watching.
But “Le Week-End” benefits from his breezy third-act appearance. If ever a troubled couple needed a whirlwind distraction from all their domestic woes, it is Meg and Nick.