Le Week-End

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Movie a Day Blog has to admit to growing identification with the swelling ranks of movies about aging baby-boomers.

Whether it’s Geezer Mumble Core, as in LAND HO! (2014, Movie a Day Blog 9/15/14)), or Geezer communal living, as in THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL (2011), just what’s happening to their generation is clearly preoccupying many established filmmakers.

One of these is Roger Michell, whose new film, LE WEEK-END, is a British entry in a sub-genre they have generally dominated. British people seem to age with much more wit and insouciance, so when I saw that Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan were the aging couple in LE WEEK-END, I knew the banter would be elevated and more clever.

The screenplay by the veteran Hanif Kureishi, who wrote the groundbreaking MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDRETTE (1985), compresses the action to a single time period, identified in the title. The apparently not-very-well off couple have gone to Paris to reminisce about their honeymoon there 30 years earlier, but of course nothing’s the same, least of all them.

Duncan is itchy for something new, and Broadbent, playing a more pathetic character than usual, is so threatened by her new independence that he’s all in a dither. These predictable reactions play out in relatively quick scenes with subtle exchanges, although the digs get deeper as the story progresses, and the nasty side of both characters is given time to emerge. Duncan’s Meg is the meaner one, however, and Broadbent’s Nick has some moments of social discomfort that feel achingly familiar.

Director Michell has made some pretty good films, such as NOTTING HILL (1999), and some pretty bad ones, particularly HYDE PARK ON HUDSON (2011), a movie even Bill Murray would rather forget. Michell’s in his element among the English intelligentsia, with Broadbent intended to be some kind of respected scholar, although of what and why is never made clear.

British directors have long been drawn to what the theater used to call the two-hander: a pair of characters in some dilemma, transition in their lives, or just plain stuck with each other. It has worked for every director from Alfred Hitchcock (THE THIRTY NINE STEPS, 1935) to David Lean (BRIEF ENCOUNTER, 1945), and services Kureishi’s story well in this instance, although after awhile, it feels like we’re just watching two old people pick at each other.

Duncan, whom I did not recognize at first from Tim Burton’s ALICE IN WONDERLAND (2010), has done a ton of British TV, and Broadbent has long been one of my favorite British character actors, much loved by Mike Leigh and other respected directors. They give this all they’ve got, but by the end of the hour and a half running time, not much has really changed.

They’ve feinted and parried, thrust and retreated, and skipped out on the bills at restaurants and hotels galore. Jeff Golblum shows up for a predictably weird turn as an old associate of Broadbent’s, although once again, the details are much too sketchy for a small, intimate film such as this. Goldblum is doing a parody of a Los Angeleno, which must seem riotous to Michell and Kureishi, but doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of this film.

WEEK-END is what I call a bump in the road movie: the characters have to get over it, but it’s not that big to begin with, and proves eminently redemptive by the end. An older audience will enjoy WEEK-END, but it’s relevance to anyone but the peers of this couple seems slight indeed. This is like having to spend an entire weekend with your quarrelsome grandparents, and do nothing but watch them verbally spar. What fun.

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