Written by Hanif Kureishi
Directed by Roger Mitchell
This is a really fine little character study and I can’t help but question who decided to market this movie in its trailers as a sort of happy-sweet mousse of British comedy. A sharp-witted take on the state of a thirty-years-long marriage, it gives two fine British actors, Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan, the opportunity to really get their teeth into the couple, Meg and Nick, without ever allowing them to chew the scenery.
While a cool jazz score accompanies this late middle-aged couple on a trip from their home in Birmingham to Paris, they exchange bon mots and familiar-sounding repartée. The Director, Roger Mitchell, shows an extremely light touch and the shimmering soundtrack fits well with the subtle ebb and floe of their dialogue. Hanif Kureishi, once a ham-handed ‘angry’ young playwright/screenwriter with a very lucrative chip on his shoulder and the voice of minority youth rage during the Thatcher era, has grown up in public and finally come of age as a craftsman with this fine screenplay. Le Weekend shifts gears exquisitely, as Meg and Nick, rendered jaded and bitter by provincial academic life still contain enough juice in their gears to still feel passionate and enamored of one another against a romantic Parisian backdrop while making petty guerrilla war with each other over years of emotional distance and accumulated regrets.
Sounds depressing, doesn’t it? But, actually, no, it isn’t. Roger Michell, known best for romantic bits of fluff like Notting Hill, shows an astonishingly feather-light touch. Mitchell, a theater assistant to Samuel Beckett in his youth, was already familiar with Kureishi’s work, helping to adapt his novel The Buddha off Suburbia (1994) into a TV miniseries.
Just another lily-white singer/songwriter/actress in the Seventies, Lesley Duncan has, of late, turned in tour-de-force performances as Caesar’s mistress Servila in Rome (2005), Lady Longford alongside Broadbent again (2006) in Longford, and now here. She has aged beautifully and the relentless ode to regret she performs here is utterly convincing.
In between shots of Paris’ beauty and a visit to the aforementioned writer Samuel Beckett’s grave there are riveting moments. “It’s… beige,” a disappointed Meg mumbles upon their entrance into a hotel room as Nick stares at her amorously.
“There’s a certain light-brownness about it, yes,” Nick replies, just a tad too laissez-faire to suit. Indeed, instead of getting to the kernel of whatever is on his mind, he puts up a frothy front. Nick tries hard to rekindle her passion, but is curtly refused and rejected. “You’re hot,” he says to Meg at one point. “Hot but cold.”
Meg talks about ‘redesigning’ her body through zumba classes and, implicitly, plastic surgery. She also yearns for an expensive meal, but Nick, in spite of his cheerful persona is a constant complainer about money and how he’s not cheap but “likes things settled.”
Thus there’s a definite edge from the sexual tension, until that all-American gangling goof, Morgan, puckishly played by Jeff Goldblum, arrives. Morgan is an old college pal of Nick. A successful writer living in exile on the sumptuous Rue de Rivoli with a beautiful young French wife and enjoying a fantastic sex life, he holds forth while scarfing down canapés like the most ugly kind of American and manages to turn the dinner table into a kind of rapid-fire Duck Soup. Consequently, Mitchell, his writer and his cast turn a kind of predictably bittersweet melange of clichés into a vastly entertaining comedy of screwball manners that’s something special.
There you have it. Love. Marriage. Pain. Truth. Time. Allusions to dead authors and old movies abound, but somehow it all comes together and helps them rekindle a definite passion, and, although they don’t really fall in love all over again, Nick and Meg rekindle something.