By Eleanor Ringel Cater
Nick (Jim Broadbent) and Meg (Lindsay Duncan) both love Paris.
They’re just not sure if they love each other any more.
The superb new film, Le Week-End,” chronicles their floundering, all-too-human attempts to find out. It opens in Atlanta on Friday, March 28.
Returning to the City of Lights 30 years after they honeymooned there, the long-married couple knows each other’s pressure points as surely as George and Martha in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
The movie — which, I must emphasize, is in English…NO subtitles — is an expert dissection of why we love, why we hate and why some of us put up with each other for a lifetime.
When to fish, so to speak, and when to cut bait.
Meg and Nick’s time together can turn on a dime. Comically, woundingly, they engage each other in sporadic bursts. Part of the wonder of Hanif Kureishi’s script and Roger Michell’s direction is, we never know which way things will go. A wine-warmed café lunch can go from loving to lethal between sips.
They run into Morgan (Jeff Goldblum doing his smarmy thing, but acutely rendered). Morgan was a former student/chum of Nick’s at university, and he doesn’t know his mentor has just been “early retired.”
Morgan’s fond memories translate into an invitation to a party peopled with French intellectuals, artistes, an estranged son squirreled away in his bedroom with a joint and a second wife who is very very much younger. When she enthuses to Meg that she’s never bored with Morgan, Meg blithely replies, “But what if he’s bored with you?”
It’s that kind of movie. Audiences may know Michell from “Venus,” (Peter O’Toole’s last film), “Notting Hill” and “Persuasion” and “Enduring Love.” Kuneishi’s most famous works include “My Beautiful Laundrette,” starring a young Daniel Day-Lewis, and “Sammy and Rosie Get Laid.”
Broadbent is one of those indispensable British character actors whose face everyone knows, if not his name. I’ll give you a few movies of his to watch below.
Duncan is even less known, but she’s a mainstay of British theatre — sort of a Scottish Blythe Danner. Together, she and Broadbent are a marvel, so deftly tuned in to each (and each other’s characters) that everything they do has a galvanizing effect.
By turns tender and excruciating, affectionate and drenched in acid, ”Le Week-End” is the best picture I’ve seen this year. I know that’s not saying much in light of the loathsome crap Hollywood unloads from its back shelves post-Oscar and pre-Summer. But here is that rare thing: a truly marvelous work that somehow excoriates the same things it celebrates. And then asks us to go both ways.
About Broadbent: He’s probably best known as the raucous MC in “Moulin Rouge,” which won him a best supporting actor Oscar. Or as Bridget Jones’ Dad. Or Margaret Thatcher/Meryl Streep’s husband in “The Iron Lady.”
Here are a couple of his lesser known pictures.
LIFE IS SWEET: Life is sweet and sour and utterly unpredictable in this irresistible comedy directed by Mike Leigh. The focus is on a working-class family in a North London suburb.
Mum is a cheerful, chin-up sort — a life force with a nervous laugh. Broadbent is her husband, a good-hearted dreamer. Their 20-ish twin daughters are complete opposites. One is a levelheaded plumber; the other a wired bulimic who spews pseudo-political slogans when she feels cornered. Which is about all the time. Leigh shows us how this “average” family gets along as it goes along. Yet he finds extraordinary things in so-called ordinary people. In this bittersweet comedy, we find tidings of joy and discomfort.
ENCHANTED APRIL: A small sun-dappled pleasure of a film. In the 1920s, four very different women trade drizzly London for a lovely Italian villa on the Mediterranean. One is a repressed romantic with a dismissive husband. Another is a saintly wife and mother who’s been told once too often that she ”has the face of a disappointed Madonna.” The third is a strikingly glamorous flapper with too many men, and the fourth is a demanding, name-dropping widow with too many memories.
We see how a simple change of scenery changes their lives. Mike Newell’s direction is elegant and understated; you leave the movie convinced that getting away from it all is the answer to almost everything. Broadbent and Alfred Molina are among the men circling this enchanting group.
THE CRYING GAME: There are more surprises in 20 minutes of this incredible Irish film than there are in 20 Hollywood pictures. Neil Jordan has fashioned a head-spinning original, a thriller-romance so deliciously topsy-turvy in its plot twists that you don’t even give a second thought to swearing not to reveal the ending. Nobody could.
Stephen Rea plays a sad-eyed Irishman who befriends a British soldier, played by a young Forest Whitaker. Problem is, Whitaker is a hostage taken by Rea and his fellow IRA-ers. Then Rea flees to London and takes up with the soldier’s drop-dead gorgeous girlfriend. Not everything — or everyone — is always as it (or he or she) seems. Jordan is a romantic fabulist making a Hitchcock thriller.