French oenophiles like to yammer on about terroir, the vast confluence of factors like geology, microclimates, soil, topography and strain of grape varietal that creates the alchemy of a special wine. While it would please me nothing more to slap these snooty Frenchies and say "drink beer like a man!" there's some truth to it. Indeed, the curious admixture of history, architecture, language, food, literature, cinema and rainy weather creates something of a sui generis experience in France itself. A terroir of urban experience, if you will, and any romantic who has walked the streets of Paris knows that it's no jive.
Alas, for the sexagenarian British stars of Roger Michell's "Le Week-End" (Godard reference very intentional) a few days on the continent may not be enough to save their atrophied marriage. Jim Broadbent plays a steadfast intellectual newly dismissed from his college position due to a politically incorrect gaffe. He hopes that a 30th wedding anniversary return to their honeymoon spot will reignite some marital passion. Lindsay Duncan plays a teacher disinterested in her profession and flummoxed with empty nest syndrome. And, we'll learn, she was considering using the weekend to tell Broadbent she wants out of the marriage.
The first hour of the film plays out as a two-hander. After splitting from their Montmartre dump (he booked it nostalgically, but she'd rather stay in an Eiffel Tower-facing suite) the two walk and talk and take in lunch. It isn't quite a study in naturalism like you'll find in Linklater's "Before" films (the ubiquitous light jazz on the soundtrack makes sure of that) but the shaggy dog nature gives both terrific performers plenty of room to strut their stuff.
In addition to light banter there are some striking moments of frustrated intimacy, as well as woeful reminiscences of lost idealism. "I'm amazed at how mediocre I've become," Broadbent muses at Montparnesse Cemetary, gazing at the headstones of heroes like Samuel Beckett and Jean-Paul Sartre.
Despite the evident melancholy from the film's very first frame, there's no shortage of self-effacing humor. Early chuckles come when we think the pair are making love, but the huffing and puffing is revealed to be our aging heroes difficult climb to the top of Sacre-Coeur.
The film's third act takes place primarily at a house party thrown by Broadbent's former colleague played by Jeff Goldblum. Goldblum is in full Christopher Walken mode (unmotivated dance move and all) and ought to keep the GIF animators of tumblr busy for a while. It's impossible not to chuckle, but he lays it on so thick it does a wee bit of damage to the soft tenor of the film.
This may be the point, however. Goldblum is a success. His collected essays (he's an economist/philosopher) is a New York Times best seller and he has the Parisian trophy wife to prove it. Though loud, he seems truly happy. Maybe. Under normal circumstances, Broadbent would scorn him, but considering how his marriage is dissolving ("a drowning man clinging to melting ice" is how he describes it) he's questioning his choices for the first time. Looking quite fetching in a black lace dress, Duncan finds herself receiving an invitation to sneak away for a drink with a younger man.
The final party is as rich and well-written as late 80s Woody Allen. While the overall film is more mild, and ends with a somewhat silly deus-ex-Goldblumina, the good of seeing senior citizens treated maturely on film far outweighs the bad. And director Mitchell wisely knows how to turn a somewhat far-fetched final scene into a cineaste's delight. I'd spoil it for you, but doing so might be grounds for divorce.
SCORE: 7.9 / 10