It’s impossible to not compare Le Week-End to the films in Richard Linklater’s Before Trilogy. With the setting of Before Sunset and the struggles of Before Midnight, but with a more aged cast, it almost feels like what we may be seeing in 9 years from Linklater and co., assuming another film in that series does end up happening.
But there’s one thing that Le Week-End has that no Before film ever will, and it is Le Week-End ace in the hole: Jeff “I Bought Flixist” Goldblum.
[For the next few weeks, we’ll be covering the 2013 New York Film Festival, now in its 51st year. Flixist will provide you with reviews, video, news, and features on some of the best films on the festival circuit. To check out all of our coverage of NYFF51, click here.]
Director: Roger Michell
Nick (Jim Broadbent) and Meg (Lindsay Duncan) go to Paris to celebrate their anniversary, because Paris is a city of romance and their relationship is rocky (to put it mildly). Because I went in without any real sense of what this film was going to be (I thought it was a French that was in French, so imagine my surprise when Jeff Goldblum’s named appeared in the credits), I kept imagining the film would go in some over-the-top direction. Maybe a wallet would get stolen and hilarious hijinx would ensue. I thought there would be more bumbling, and at times there really seems to be the setup for that sort of comedy, but it never happens. That isn’t to say the film’s not silly at times (the dine and ditch scene is extremely silly), but its silliness feels grounded in a way that was surprising.
I know it’s a disservice to compare this film to the Before Trilogy, but the similarities are unavoidable, especially given the general similarities in appearance between Lindsay Duncan and Julie Delpy. There were times I wanted to shout at her and tell her to get back to Ethan Hawke, because who was this guy? (I wonder if the next film will deal with affairs? That would be interesting.) But reason it’s a disservice is because it’s simply not as good, but then again… how could it be? And this isn’t a knock against the people behind Le Week-End. The Before films are among the most smartly-written, brilliantly-made romance films in the history of ever. That this film is releasing the same year as the thematically similar (and far superior) Before Midnight is honestly sad, because everybody who has seen both will be making the comparisons, and they won’t come out favorably.
And so now I sound like a hypocrite, but if you see Le Week-End (and you should), don’t compare it to other films. It doesn’t use its similarities as a crutch and it’s not trying to invoke some sort of nostalgia to make the viewer think it’s better than it is. Le Week-End is its own thing, and it should be thought of that way. So for the remainder of this review, I will refrain from talking about the Before films, as difficult as it may be.
But let’s talk about the real reason we’re here, that god amongst men who makes this movie what it is. Logic says that roles shouldn’t be written for a specific actor, but I can’t imagine that the role wasn’t written for Jeff Goldblum. The character of Morgan is exactly what people imagine Jeff Goldblum to be, and it is spec-freaking-tacular. No one else could have done that part, and without Goldblum there to lighten up the second half with his sheer existence, the film just wouldn’t have worked. Morgan, a college friend of Nick’s, lives in Paris and runs into the couple while they’re out in the street. He invites them to a party, which they accept, begrudgingly. That party is a moment of truth for the characters, made all the worse for Nick by the fact that his old friend, who looked up to him in their youth (in an almost creepy way, actually), is wildly successful while he kind of pathetic.
It’s the kind of thing that could be too heavy-handed (“your life is great, mine is terrible, wah!”), but it works. Morgan’s son, who exists mostly to show that Morgan isn’t perfect, does stray a bit into that tortured-introvert-child-of-a-successful-extrovert thing that has been done a billion times before, and hearing anyone speak ill about Jeff Goldblum is kind of unacceptable, but for what it is it’s fine. It’s not a great moment, but it does what it has to to further the story along.
And it’s a good story. The give and take between Meg and Nick throughout the film is well done and the way Nick gives in to his wife’s demands as she spends more and more money while he attempts to keep the status quo is sad, but in those moments where they really connect and it seems like maybe things will be okay I was rooting for them to stay together. In those moments where they were in different worlds, it was hard to believe that there was any future. You love and hate the person you’re with, and this is a very good portrayal of that principle. Broadbent and Duncan’s performances are quite good, although Jeff Goldblum was always going to be a showstopper.
The periodical French dialogue isn’t subtitled, but since it’s a British production that was clearly a deliberate decision, and as someone who knows less than a dozen words of French I often wondered what I was missing. That’s been a thing lately (Elysium didn’t subtitle a lot of the random Spanish, although that I understood), and I don’t know how I feel about it. It was clearly going from the perspective of Nick, who seems about as French-illiterate as me, versus his wife who seems to have something of a grasp. We were as ignorant as he was, but since the film doesn’t always follow him, it’s kind of weird. Why was it from his perspective and not hers? They’re both the leads, right?
But whatever. It’s a small thing that doesn’t really matter and had little impact on my overall feelings about Le Week-End. I liked the movie, quite a bit in fact. Sure, much of my love is reserved for the beautiful and brilliant Jeff Goldblum, but he’s not the worthwhile thing in the film. Just the most worthwhile.