Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Review: "Le Week-End"

Director: Roger Michell
Runtime: 93 minutes

In the aftermath of last year's Before Midnight, speculation began as to whether Richard Linklater would eventually make a fourth film in his acclaimed Before series. Linklater has plenty of time, as nine years passed between each of the Before films. However, British director/writer team Roger Michell and Hanif Kureishi have gotten a jump on Linklater and company with their newest collaboration, Le Week-End. Unintentionally continuing in the vein of Linklater's films, Le Week-End injects an extra does of emotional discord into its central relationship, resulting in a darker, yet still winning journey about love settling in for inevitable decline.

Rather than Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, Michell's camera finds itself following Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan around a major European locale. Said locale is Paris, where Broadbent's Nick and Duncan's Meg have returned in attempt to revisit their honeymoon spot and enliven their marriage. Like other duo-driven films, the plot is loose and open-ended, allowing the character's interactions to take center stage. 

The immediate difference, however, is that Kureishi's script doesn't spend time trying to charm the audience. Despite the visual splendors of the City of Light, Le Week-End is quick to point out that Nick and Meg's 30 year marriage has its share of weaknesses. Before Midnight showed its characters stumbling through their first major arguments. Le Week-End, by contrast, shows those arguments as having become woven into daily life. A simple moment can give rise to an uncomfortable confession or frustration, and vice versa. 

Despite immediately showing one the rockiness of Nick and Meg's relationship, the film still does an intelligent job of parsing out the actual details across the 90 minute duration. And, when information does arrive, it is either done so briefly (details from a phone call) or eloquently (a humbling speech at a dinner party). Whatever flaws these two have, Michell and Kureishi have still approached them with a measured sense of compassion. 

Said approach is showcased beautifully in Broadbent and Duncan's performances, which feel nicely lived in from the opening scene. Duncan, a veteran of British TV, may not be as well known to American audiences as her Oscar-winning co-star, but she effortlessly holds her own. If anything, the majority of the film belongs to her characters emotions, while Broadbent takes on the slightly passive role. Of the two, Meg is more easily frustrated with the relationship, and Duncan channels into a carefully balanced mix of tough love and anger. Broadbent, meanwhile, saves most of his energy for the later stretches, where he truly gets to grab hold of some rich material and nail it with understated mastery.

Cast wise, the only other notable name is Jeff Goldblum as Nick's former colleague Morgan. Early notices pegged Goldblum as a scene-stealer, though I'm not quite convinced. It becomes apparent that Morgan is supposed to be a bit smug, yet Goldblum's early scenes feel overly broad, with the actor resorting to a distractingly breathy delivery to indicate excitement. In a movie that has such a grounded, intimate feel, Goldblum's borderline schtickiness is irksome, and not quite in the way I suspect it was intended. 

Goldblum aside, the only other notable issue to be found is in the ending, where several important issues rear their heads in an unfortunately choppy way. Though it is the polar opposite in terms of scale, Le Week-End starts to develop Return of the King-syndrome, with one too many shots appearing as though they're meant to be the last. And, once the actual finale arrives, it feels inappropriately uncertain. On a cinematic level, it's charming, yet there are so many unresolved issues that it seems like a cop out. Michell maintains the emotional balancing act so well, so it's puzzling to see him stick such a wobbly landing. While that's hardly enough to undo the strength of everything else, it remains a minor frustration in an otherwise honest and touching exploration of love and marriage. Stick it between the Before series and Michael Haneke's Amour, and you'll have one hell of a complete look at the evolution of love, for better and for worse. 

Grade: B+ 

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