- By Chris Hewitt
Pundits have advised us to keep long-term relationships fresh by scheduling regular date nights, taking classes together or greeting our spouses at the door clad only in Saran Wrap.
The Britsh movie, Le Week-End has different ideas, beginning with the dine-and-dash.
Brits Nick and Meg (Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan) have been married for 30 years or so. They are on a train, headed for Paris, as the movie begins.
Even before the couple unpacks, there are signs their holiday may not be the romantic roundelay promised by travel brochures. Their hotel is a dump and, most distressingly to Meg, "It's beige." Nick admits, "There's a certain brownness about it." And as he says it, anyone who has ever seen love-rejuvenating travel hopes dashed will relate to the vexed expression on his face.
For Nick and Meg in Le Week-End, the issue is not falling in love but a more interesting one that movies rarely explore: staying in love.
It's a Thin Line
Le Week-End director Roger Michell has made a specialty of the love lives of people who are not Reese Witherspoon or Ryan Gosling.
With varying degrees of success, his films often focus on love among the fifty-, sixty- and seventy-somethings: Bill Murray and Laura Linney in Hyde Park on the Hudson, Diane Keaton and Harrison Ford in Morning Glory, Anne Reid's fling with Daniel Craig in The Mother, Peter O'Toole's final flirtation in Venus. (He also directed Notting Hill and Changing Lanes, among others.)
With long love comes complexity.
"You can't not love and hate the same person, usually within the space of five minutes in my experience," Nick says, and it is this dichotomy that occupies the imagination of Le Week-End: What are you to do when the person you love most is also, sometimes, the person you can't stand?
Hanif Kureishi's precise script captures what a lived-in relationship feels like. (It helps that the actors, both in their 60s, previously played husband and wife in the TV movie, Longford).
Little details, such as the fact that Nick always carries the duo's passports when they travel, capture the unspoken routines of a long-time bond. And, although they are in synch on many things, that familiarity can be annoying, as indicated when Meg says, "You make my blood boil like nobody else," and Nick swiftly replies, "That's a sign of a deep connection."
He's right, maybe, but Meg's instinct is to bust their marriage out of its comfort zone.
Hence, the speedy exit from a French bistro without settling the bill. And the move to a swanker, less beige, hotel. And the suggestion that they kink up their sex life. And the attempt to duplicate a charming dance sequence from the Jean-Luc Godard caper film, Bande a part (Band of Outsiders), which Meg studies on a TV in their Paris hotel.
What is Real Romance?
Unlike Hollywood romances, which almost always end when the couple falls in love, Le Week-End insists that real romance is what comes next, what is fought for.
The film is frequently hilarious but it is powered by a strong sense of mistakes that have been made (Nick and Meg's son is a slacker who won't move out), of failure as a possibility (they have money woes) and of the limited amount of time any of us has.
Le Week-End concludes with things very much up in the air for Nick and Meg, career-wise and money-wise. But not romance-wise. We see that they still challenge each other and crack each other up, even if it takes outsiders to help them locate the passion they misplaced.
Meg tells a story about a friend who overheard her flirtatious half of a phone chat and assumed she was talking to a new lover. Nope, it was Nick, and the friend's comment helps her see him in a different way.
Meanwhile, a chance meeting with a long-ago school chum, played by Jeff Goldblum, reminds the pair how much they are into each other.
When the chum tells dinner party guests the story of bumping into them as they kissed on a Paris street, Le Week-End cuts to the faces of Nick and Meg and there's a sense that, although it took them several arguments and a misdemeanor or two to get there, they have just remembered the people they are: The ones who fell in love decades ago and, triumphantly, have figured out how to stay that way.
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Chris Hewitt is a movie and theater critic who has written for MSNBC.com, Today.com and The History Channel magazine and whose reviews have run in newspapers across the country.