'Le Week-End' Makes for a Rough Anniversary in Paris
Le Week-End seems like one of those brutal marriage retreat experiences, where couples are locked in their hotel rooms and directed to talk and write to each other for three days straight about what's bothering them.
"I thought, now we are in Paris together, we can discuss important things," suggests Nick (Jim Broadbent). He and Meg (Lindsay Duncan) arrive with plans to celebrate their 30th anniversary, but the trip is nearly ruined before it can begin when she storms out of the hotel owing to their room's unacceptable beige-ness. From there, they take up a manic sightseeing tour from the back of a taxi, then settle into a penthouse suite they can't afford. And now, Nick is ready to dig into the important thing, like the tiles for their remodeled bathroom.
Already we know, in the first few minutes of Le Week-end, that tiles are the least of the Meg and Nick’s worries. Both feeling simultaneously comforted, bored, and not infrequently reviled by each other, they're also stuck in what seems a hackneyed set of tensions: he’s clingy, she’s cold; he’s “too steady,” she’s erratic; he smacks his food, she worries they have nothing left between them now the kids are grown. Thankfully, Roger Michell's film doesn’t linger on these banalities for long. As Nick and Meg make their way past tiles and reveal their unhappiness to each other, it's uncomfortable, even painful -- for them and us -- as their vulnerabilities are exposed and the accusations fly.
Le Week-End doesn't take sides as the bickering escalates. But while Broadbent and Duncan are both wonderful to watch, Meg is rendered more harshly. Nick, for all his faults, seems mostly clueless, perhaps by choice, while Meg is often cruel. And that’s a problem. When she complains that he needs to "man up" on an issue, he responds, “When I first met you, you were part of the feminist Taliban who insisted I contact my feminine side. Have I not contacted it sufficiently?” her answer -- “You practically married it” -- seems to confirm his complaint that she's emasculated him. Meg's accusations seem sadistic, just before she pulls back and makes nice.
Still, Meg’s own complaints are legitimate: her children are grown, she’s nearing the end of her career, and after all these years, her husband remains unable to love her in a way she understands. When Nick asks why she resists even a nonsexual touch from him, she lashes out, “Because it’s not love. It’s like being arrested.” Her displays of instability sometimes make us wonder whether this isn’t a film about mental illness. But maybe that’s the point, as she has become at least as ungenerous as her husband. Early on, Nick worries about her spending, and moreover, that they “might live forever as a burden to others.” But Meg is more frightened of living in a state of emotional bankruptcy: she couldn’t be more frugal when it comes to giving her depleted self to Nick.
As the two talk their way through Parisian bistros, they meet an old friend, Morgan (Jeff Goldblum, typically rambling, charming, and slick). He's what Nick never became, a rich, successful author and a clever conversationalist. Visiting Morgan at his swanky apartment, Nick sees this while forced to listen to Morgan’s misreading of his and Meg’s life, but in his typical self-centeredness, doesn’t see what we do, that Morgan is also a mirror of Meg. He has thrown over his first wife and son (Olly Alexander) with horrifying consequences, and now has started the whole process over again with the younger Eve (Judith Davis). This, because he “wants to be adored, to be waited for, to be listened to.” The evening quickly devolves into the world’s most uncomfortable dinner party as the painful parts of marriage intrude into the romanticized version Morgan has so carefully arranged for himself.
In this scene, Le Week-End seems like one of those brutal marriage retreat experiences, where couples are locked in their hotel rooms and directed to talk and write to each other for three days straight about what's bothering them, from sex, money, and kids to expectations and disappointments. Meg comes to a difficult revelation: “There is no ‘one.’” In this, at least, the film supports her: happy endings are a fantasy.