Is Roger Michell a bit of a copy? Notting Hill is a close re-run of Four Weddings and a Funeral, the nosy Hyde Park on Hudson feels like an unofficial sequel to The King’s Speech and now Le Week-end comes off the back of the success of grey pound films about older people abroad such as The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. But is Le Week-end better than that?
Yes and no. Nick and Meg (Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan) are approaching old age. They go to Paris in an effort to recreate some good old times but also to escape from their problems back home in England. Although they are skint, they check into a very expensive hotel and eat in a slew of posh restaurants. Their trip comes to resemble an escape from reality as they try somewhat desperately to turn back to clock and be young and foolish again.
Written by Hanif Kureishi (My Beautiful Laundrette and Michell’s Venus), Le Week-end is more complex than a comparison to The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel would suggest. Indeed, Le Week-end, despite the posters and the trailers, is not a cosy, light comedy but something a lot darker. Nick and Meg are coming to terms with disappointment and their unfulfilled ability, dying love, suffocation and a growing sense that they are becoming obsolete. Often, Kureishi will allow scenes that were initially funny to become suddenly awkward, even off-putting, as a sudden irritation or misunderstanding leads to another argument. Another, better comparison would be Before Midnight – or perhaps the fifth instalment of that series if one is ever produced. Le Week-end can be rather brave at times, primarily by recognising that older people are not sexless and content, that they can harbour deep resentments and still maintain sexual needs. Often the film’s best moments are its sudden shifts from light comedy to dark, frank drama.
However, the film is also very conventional, irritatingly so. Certain dramatic scenes play out like moments from Judd Apatow films – of serious intention but so unrealistic that the characters become cartoonish at the moment that they are supposed to be at their most believable. These scenes occur primarily towards the end of the film, particularly Nick’s talk with old college friend Morgan’s (Jeff Goldblum giving a fascinating ‘big’ but subtle performance) son Michael (Olly Alexander), who acts merely as a sounding board to Nick’s problems in a scene that no teenager would sit through so comfortably in real life. Soon afterwards, there is a round of after-dinner speeches, which don’t work at all, especially since Nick and Meg have been so reserved before now. The main problem here is that while before Nick and Meg were difficult but understandable, they now become rather self-obsessed and self-dramatising. Quite why they suddenly feel the need to open up about their deepest, darkest fears to a group of people they have never met before is bewildering.
Other than that, they only other irritating thing about Le Week-end is its habit of celebrating how irritating British people can be on holiday, making this film the conventional equivalent of Joanna Hogg’s much more art house but equally irritating Brits-on-holiday films, Unrelated and Archipelago – yet more films that Le Week-end resembles. It also recreates a scene from Godard’s Bande à part (Band of Outsiders), though it is not the Louvre scene – itself recreated in Bertolucci’s great The Dreamers. Although this is another series of films that Le Week-end resembles, this particular moment is nicely judged and somewhat cheery. Le Week-end is likeably nostalgic for the radicalism of the 1960s, with not only Godard films referenced but also the writings of Proust and Gramsci – both in vogue at the time. The film offers an interesting look at how young radicals can end up as part of the establishment – something proven with the depressing casting of so many of the stars of the British New Wave in the dull, safe Quartet.
In the end, Michell and Kureishi’s film is interesting and somewhat likable, though it is unsure how serious or silly it wants to be. It needs the rigour of Richard Linklater but the apparent adulation for Godard is a nice touch. When it isn’t reminding you of some other film, Le Week-end may just be unique – and there are enough of these moments to allow the film to briefly transcend its tacky marketing and conventionally arch plot devices.