The genre, if it can be called that, is geriatric screwball comedy. Not enticing, though the premise of Le Week-End held some promise: a trip to Paris to revitalize a tired 30-year-old marriage. Unfortunately for all concerned, including the audience, once Mr. and Mrs. Burrows get off the Eurostar train from London, everything goes wrong, for them and for the film.
Nick (Jim Broadbent) and Meg (Lindsay Duncan) are at no point sympathetic characters, nor is their marriage believable. The simplest way to relay the movie’s failure is to catalog its many flaws, which is a list of implausibilities. Start with their home life, which is spoken of but not seen, as all the action takes place in Paris: (1) Nick is dismissed as a professor of philosophy in Birmingham because he suggested one of his students spend more time on her studies than her hair. He was fired? Really? Even academia is not that petty. Anyway, as result, they are all but penniless in Paris. (2) Their marriage is so sexless that at one point he crawls toward her begging to smell her crotch. Now, maybe men that feeble exist. Maybe they even stay in marriages. And maybe there are women who indulge such caponized behavior, or who are the cause of it. But if any of those pathologies exist, they need to be explored a bit when the storytellers aim the camera at her lifted skirt and his kneel-crawl. In this movie, that scene adds nothing but campy vulgarity. (3) They refer to their children in the plural (“Once the kids have gone, what’s left of us?”), but the only one offspring emerges in the plot, a derelict married son who phones for money. Why “kids” if the plot only calls for one? Answer: lazy writing. (4) Nick had an affair years ago, and Meg is still punishing him for it— sometimes. At other times, she buys him art books they can’t afford. She is the very definition of fickle, while he’s a grizzled Lloyd Dobler—smitten to the point of emasculation.
Then there’s Paris: (5) Meg hates the inexpensive Montmartre hotel room he booked— her entire objection: “It’s beige”— and so flees for a taxi, with him rushing after shouting “Don’t do this, Meg!” They drive around, meter ticking, until she sees the Plaza Athénée, one of Paris’s most luxurious hotels—say, $900 per night. (6) He vandalizes their room by pasting mementos to a wall, including snippets from the generous pile of coffee-table art books she bought. (7) On the street one night, they encounter an old friend of his (Jeff Goldblum, displaying his full range of signature quirks) who of course happens to be a wildly successful author with a pregnant young wife and, for that touch of the imperfect, a pot-smoking son secluded in a bedroom. No movie these days can be without someone filthy rich, or someone dysfunctional: Jeff G provides both. Finally (8), perhaps the worst flaw of all, the one that makes it impossible to like these people: they are presented as petty criminals. Superannuated delinquents. They run from paying their bills at a restaurant, and at the Plaza Athénée. They are caught at the latter, and called to account, and Jeff Goldblum comes to their rescue. The end.
I could go on, but recalling the flaws is as tedious as watching them in the first place. Broadbent and Duncan are fine in their roles, but Nick and Meg are inconsistent and often embarrassing to watch. Writer Hanif Kureishi and director Roger Michell (whose first film, Persuasion, was marvelous) seem to want to have it both ways— a comedy with a broken heart— but there is little humor, and no heart.