Film Review: A Brilliant, Anguished “Le Week-End”

Adeptly directed by Roger Michell, “Le Week-End” soars because of the glorious leads, the matching of the always reliable Broadbent, veteran of Mike Leigh movies, and Duncan, little known in America but acclaimed on the British stage.

Le Week-End, directed by Roger Michell. At Kendall Square Cinema and other screens around New England.

in "Le Week-End"

Lindsay Duncan (Meg) and Jim Broadbent (Nick) contemplating their marital end game in the marvelous “Le Week-End.”

By Gerald Peary

Here’s how Meg (Lindsay Duncan) summates her life in Roger Michell’s brilliant, anguished new British film, Le Week-End: “Boredom. Dissatisfaction. Fury. And the clock ticking by.” Her spouse matches her in quotidian misery. “Think of me as falling out a window forever,” says Nick (Jim Broadbent). “For I am truly fucked.”

This plagued wife and husband, three decades into a flat, tired marriage, reside in the unfashionable city of Birmingham. She’s a secondary teacher exhausted of the grind — and of anonymity? A leftist activist in his youth, he’s become a late-middle-aged nobody, toiling as a philosophy professor at a lowly polytechnic institute. And now he’s being tossed from his lifer job, for making un-PC remark to a young black colleague.

Meg and Nick seek to escape their mutual distress with a fast train to Paris, and a weekend, long planned, of romance and renewal. It’s their 30th anniversary! And what a setup for a heart-rending, softy art movie. But that’s not where Le Week-End, obstinately pessimist, is going. The delightful old hotel where this couple once stayed has become squalid, and a host of charming restaurants prove, upon close inspection, to be “Too expensive… Too empty…Too touristy.” Soon they are squabbling like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’s pugilist academic couple, George and Martha, and with a similar acerbic bite to their exchanges. Credit novelist Hanif Kureishi’s harsh, smartly written screenplay, on a par with his classic scripts for My Beautiful Laundrette (1985) and Sammy and Rosie Get Laid (1987).

Actually, she’s a lot harder on him than he is on her. He may be annoyingly passive and ineffectual, but Nick seems a kind man, and one still deeply in love with his wife. It’s Meg who is sick of his touch, who pines for outsider romance, who threatens divorce. Meg is “hot…and cold,” as Nick accurately describes her. Does that make the narrative slightly sexist, that he’s warmer, that she’s decidedly bitchier? Perhaps. But perhaps she’s right to want more from her husband than a sweet temper, to wish for backbone and drive. On the other hand: perhaps she’s being unfair, frustrated by her own non-achievement. As learned and articulate as she is, Meg has been shut down, and shut out, as a non-university teacher. “You look like an artist,” someone tells her. She does, but there’s no art.

So what do we see of Paris in Le Week-End? A non-springtime view. The Eiffel Tower, kept far away in the distance. A cemetery packed with dead literati, where Nick pays a visit to the grave of Samuel Beckett. The insides of one fancy restaurant and one five-star hotel, where our estranged couple eat and then stay, not having the money in the bank for either. Their meals are punctuated by fighting, then grim silence. Their swank hotel room isn’t enough for them to melt into sex.

Adeptly directed by Michell, Le Week-End soars because of the glorious leads, the matching of the always reliable Broadbent, veteran of Mike Leigh movies, and Duncan, little known in America but acclaimed on the British stage. He’s superbly melancholy, she switches on a dime from chilly to caring. And add in a third great performance: Jeff Goldberg as Morgan, whom, fortuitously, they meet in the Paris streets.

An American pal of Nick’s from Marxist Cambridge days, Morgan’s now far, far more successful than Nick with probably half the brains or real talent. And he knows it, even as he has a party to celebrate the publication of a new book, which smells of Malcolm Gladwell slickness and superficiality. Morgan is a rogue and probably a womanizer and with a fragile ego, but he’s also self-deprecating and funny and a loyal friend. A complex character, somehow endearing.

What more could a discriminating film audience want, than these three superb actors planted in Paris, their Le Week-End words penned so skillfully by Hanif Kureishi? Well, stick to the end for a smile: a retro line dance, our swell trio getting down with The Madison.

Gerald Peary is a professor at Suffolk University, Boston, curator of the Boston University Cinematheque, and the general editor of the “Conversations with Filmmakers” series from the University Press of Mississippi. A critic for the late Boston Phoenix, he is the author of 9 books on cinema, writer-director of the documentary For the Love of Movies: the Story of American Film Criticism, and a featured actor in the 2013 independent narrative Computer Chess.


  1. Tim Jackson on April 11, 2014 at 1:08 pm

    The evocation of the ’60s, as dramatized in Hanif Kureishi’s screenplay for Roger Michell’s Le Week-End, is both the film’s strength and weakness. The long married philosophy professor, Nick, played nicely by the perpetually rumpled Jim Broadbent and his schoolteacher wife Meg (Lindsay Duncan) hope to revive the spirit of their younger years in Paris, where they (and I presume we, the target audience of aging boomers) might rediscover our youthful exuberance and the 60’s anarchic spirit of Marx and Coca Cola.

    At least, I assume that’s why they go, since they don’t seem to agree on much. They don’t find it, of course, despite the fatuous tributes and a toast by the professor’s cloying and admiring ex-student Morgan, played energetically by Jeff Goldblum. (Morgan is also a ’60’s Karel Reisz classic about a Marxist artist whose wife is fed up with him). They happen to run in to Morgan and he just happens to be having a party that evening. There is a grandstanding dinner speech where the professor lets it all hang out. It’s one of those movie moments where I cringe at how fabricated it comes off. We don’t see much of Paris. Most of the time the protagonists bicker in restaurants and hotels in ways that stifle their spirits, and ours.

    But Paris and the sprit of Godard hover over Le Week-End. The title is an obvious reference to Jean-Luc Godard’s Weekend, where the New-Wave master turned his own misanthropic tendencies into a portrait of revolution. A half a century later Nick and Meg have lost that ’60s fire that once ignited their spirit, and have collapsed into dreary middle-aged bickering. Their squabbling may resemble George and Martha’s seething animosity from another ’60s milestone, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, but the dreary absurdity of their conversation is closer to Vladimir and Estrogen in Waiting for Godot. Like the existential clowns in Samuel Beckett’s play, salvation is unlikely anytime soon. It’s Nick as Vladimir the intellect, and Meg as Estragon, the corporeal. Compare these two scenes:

    From Le Week-End

    All I want is a cup of tea and a comfortable toilet.
    (she is silent)
    Good idea
    Let’s get a taxi to Gare du Nord. We can sit in silence all the way back to Moseley before killing ourselves in a suicide pact.
    I knew this trip would be a fucking disaster. You don’t even want to try.

    From Godot:

    I’ve nothing to say to you.
    You’re angry? (Silence) Forgive me (Silence.) Give me your hand. Embrace me! Don’t be stubborn!
    They embrace. #
    You stink of garlic!
    It’s for the kidneys. (Silence)
    What do we do now?
    Yes, but while waiting.
    What about hanging ourselves?

    From Le Week-End
    I love it when you’re in this mood. Do you think you’re bipolar?
    No. I think I’m actually capable of happiness.
    (Cut to interior of a restaurant where they are swallowing oysters)
    Do you think part of the reason you invited Jack and Angie back to the house is because you can’t bear to be alone with me?
    But I can’t be apart from you.
    Well, you are pathetically dependent.
    Why don’t you want to help young people?
    Shut up. You idiot. You’re a fucking idiot sometimes.
    I want a new start

    A scene from Godot that encapsulates that sort of relationship

    ESTRAGON: Don’t touch me! Don’t question me! Don’t speak to me! Stay with me!
    VLADIMIR: Did I ever leave you?

    There are other possibilities. Pinter’s Betrayal comes to mind with its upper-class veil of deceit and unhappiness. Hope for the miserable couple eventual surfaces in the very last dance scene, a direct quote from Godard’s Bande à part. Suddenly we’re tossed some optimism and they set to dancing the Madison as Claude Brasseur, Anna Karina, and Sami Frey do in the more exuberant film. I like misery with a tinge of hope as much as the next middle-aged man, but here it all feels artificial and contrived. Albee, Pinter, Godard, and Beckett are theoretically interesting reference points for highlighting lost optimism, to dramatize a once passionate and idealistic boomer generation that has been worn thin by decades of domestic sameness. It doesn’t feel honest to me.

    There is a graying generation that still remembers that going to the movie theater can be a holy experience. Instead we’re being targeted with formulaic movies like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and its inevitable sequel (it grossed $135 million worldwide). I admire the work of both Kureishi and Michell, but I do wish we’d get back to exploring reality rather than grinding out stories — either feel good or feel bad — about a generalized and genericized generation of geriatrics.

  2. Gerald Peary on April 11, 2014 at 4:31 pm

    The comparisons to Waiting for Godot are such a stretch: an apple and an orange are both round. The last scene quoted from Le Week-End is not Beckett at all but really really close to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Thanks, Tim, for making the Godard connections. It’s been a long time since I saw Bande a part.You are right there. As for the Week-End title like Godard’s Weekend, the comparison has nothing to do with revolution but with both films featuring a squabbling couple on vacation.

    • Tim Jackson on April 11, 2014 at 8:26 pm

      From an acting standpoint, I would think approaching the pauses and absurdities and rambling conversations as one might Beckett (or Pinter maybe) would be useful. I bought the screenplay at Amazon and it struck me right away, without stretching, the similarities. Should I further stretch and say the Morgan character is Pozzo interpreted as a capitalist?

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