Le Week-end review: la vie et le bonheur
A marvelous little unpacking of the meaning of happiness, precisely what constitutes it, and how to know whether you’ve found it.
I’m “biast” (pro):
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
Nick (Jim Broadbent: Closed Circuit) and Meg (Lindsay Duncan: About Time) have been married a long time. We’re not sure how long, as Le Week-end opens with them on the train from London to Paris for a getaway, but the practiced ease of their togetherness, all reflexive sniping and easy intimacy, is plain. You know these people… but you don’t see them in movies often. Apart from the simple pleasure of spending cinematic time with intriguing yet realistic people exploring the conundrums of life in an engaging and sympathetic way, we have here the pleasure of seeing a couple of fresh, funny 60somethings having little adventures — Meg comes up with a rather daring one — enjoying the world, and trying to figure out their places in it.
It’s a new sort of crossroad for the 21st century they find themselves at: he’s being forced into early retirement from his post as a professor of philosophy; she’s bored with her teaching job and wants to try something else; their adult son has finally moved out; but they’ve each likely got decades of good health ahead of them… do they really want to spent those years together? They don’t seem to realize that that’s what this little return trip to Paris, where they’d visited together long ago, is set to determine, but as they sit in cafes drinking glorious wine and wander cemeteries looking at dead authors, the argumentative ebb and affectionate flow of their conversation gradually leads them to such decisions. And when they run into an old friend of Nick’s, Morgan (Jeff Goldblum: The Switch) — now living in Paris after having walked out on his first wife back in New York — the question becomes more explicit.
The script, by Hanif Kureishi (Venus), is clever and wise, and I can’t help but imagine that it was inspired by Richard Linklater’s films about Jesse and Celine: Nick and Meg could be them another 20 years on from their marital adventures in Before Midnight. Director Roger Michell (Hyde Park on Hudson) smartly holds back any filmic showiness — we barely even glimpse Paris’s famous sites — and lets the marvelous Broadbent and Duncan steal the show as Nick and Meg attempt to unpack the meaning of happiness, and precisely what constitutes it, and whether they have found it with each other. The question is tougher to answer than it sounds, and yet the answers each discovers, almost as if by accident, are paradoxically so simple.