"Le Week-End" is a sour and misanthropic film masquerading as an honest and sensitive romance. A painful and unremittingly bleak look at a difficult marriage, it wants us to sit through a range of domestic horrors without offering much of anything as a reward.
This is especially disheartening because on an abstract level the film's participants on both sides of the camera are talented individuals with strong resumes.
Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan, who star as the unhappy couple, are two of Britain's top actors. Director Roger Michell has both "Notting Hill" and the Jane Austen adaptation "Persuasion" to his credit, and his collaboration with "Week-End" writer Hanif Kureishi on "Venus," starring Peter O'Toole, was excellent as well.
But it's hard to watch "Le Week-End" without feeling that in this instance, it's all just a case of good money thrown after bad. Though what's been attempted is defensible in theory, in practice, all the film manages to do is leave the worst possible taste in your mouth.
Broadbent and Duncan star as Nick and Meg Burroughs, a couple headed to Paris, where they honeymooned, to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary.
Celebrate, it soon becomes clear, is hardly the operative word here. Before they even get off the Eurostar, Nick and Meg needle each other like bickering was going out of style. He's a whiner, she's a bully, and the fact that they do not get along couldn't be clearer.
On arrival in Paris, things get worse. Nick, who loves the familiar, has booked them into the same Montmartre hotel they honeymooned in, while Meg, ever the iconoclast, refuses to spend so much as a night in a room with beige walls. She storms out of the place and into a taxi, with Nick sniveling in the background, "Meg, no, please ... don't do this."
The Burroughses end up at a high-end hotel they can't even begin to afford, in a suite Tony Blair once occupied, no less, leading to more Nick worrying that Paris is "a brilliantly designed machine for extracting all our money." Meg, for her part, couldn't care less.
With all this as background, things get, if possible, worse for the happy couple when both partners decide Paris would be the perfect place to reveal things they've kept to themselves. Academic Nick is being forced into early retirement, while Meg is thinking of leaving her job and quite possibly the marriage itself. Not exactly a recipe for a memorable vacation.
Still, no film set in Paris is totally without its charms. Nick and Meg eat in some delicious-looking restaurants (I wish I'd written down the names), and it was nice to get a glimpse of old friends like the Tschann Libraire bookstore and Jean-Luc Godard's "Band of Outsiders," which supplies a key film clip.
And, to be fair, "Le Week-End" does offer the occasional random good-humored remark shared by longtime partners, but these seem more like afterthoughts than anything else. Mostly, Nick and Meg flay the skin off each other, the deeper the cut the better.
Setting both their lives in perspective, and offering a truly feeble deus ex machina as the film struggles to escape from its own bile, is a chance encounter with guileless American academic Morgan (a game but miscast Jeff Goldblum), an old Cambridge chum of Nick's who has achieved the kind of success that has eluded our hero.
Inevitably, however, "Le Week-End" attempts to find a ray of sunshine in this gloomy mess and comes off as contrived and completely unconvincing. Screenwriter Kureishi, the mastermind of this tour through hell, has thrown his heart so completely into the horror show aspects of his story that his belated attempts to change the tune are doomed to ignominious failure. And that's putting it mildly.
No MPAA rating
Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes
Playing: At Landmark, West Los AngelesCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times