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'Le Week-End' review: Jim Broadbent stars in quietly acerbic comedy

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Director: Roger Michell; Screenwriter Hanif Kureishi; Starring: Jim Broadbent, Lindsay Duncan, Jeff Goldblum, Olly Alexander; Running time: 93 mins; Certificate: 15


Playing like a distant and darker-hearted cousin of Richard Linklater's Before... trilogy, Roger Michell's wry, quietly acerbic comedy follows an elderly married couple who return to Paris - the setting of their honeymoon - seemingly in a bid to remind themselves why they're still together. In between scenic walks and painstakingly chosen restaurant meals, the cosiness gradually gives way to bitterness as revelations and accusations emerge.

Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan's endearing performances initially mask the script's underlying bite, as Nick and Meg's conversations zigzag between affectionate ribbing and genuinely vicious barbs. The trip is fraught almost from the off: Meg insists on upgrading from their modest honeymoon lodging to an impossibly pricey hotel, her fear of wasting her golden years expressing itself in a desperate need to experience the trappings of a lifestyle they have never attained.

Jeff Goldblum in 'Le Week-End'
Nick, meanwhile, is harbouring a painful professional secret and an increasingly justified fear of abandonment. Their back-and-forth doesn't have the spontaneity or looseness of Linklater's trilogy, nor does it aspire to; Hanif Kureishi's script is a specific and inflexible gem - every word feels carefully chosen, every sentence loaded. It swiftly becomes clear that even when trivialities are being discussed, painful fundamentals are at stake. Fondness has long ago replaced passion in this marriage, and the crux of Le Week-End is the question of whether this new status quo can sustain itself.

But it's only when Jeff Goldblum enters the picture, walking a familiar fine line between charm and smarm as an old university friend of Nick's, that the dynamics really come to life. Goldblum's character has outstripped Nick in every aspect despite being his intellectual inferior - he's wealthy, renowned, and surrounded by similarly successful, bourgeois friends.

More galling than any of this is the fact that he's impossible to dismiss as a bad egg: he's insufferable through this couple's disillusioned lens, but seems nothing but genuine in his generosity and affection towards them. The film's third act kicks off with one of its most thrilling scenes, an extended exchange between Broadbent and Goldblum that's loaded with unspoken tension, and lays the groundwork for a shattering climax a few scenes later.

Le Week-End falters only when it veers away from its central trio: a bonding moment between Nick and the neglected son of Goldblum doesn't convince, while Meg's simultaneous encounter with a potential suitor feels overtly like a plot contrivance. But these are minor quibbles with a script that's so rigorously committed to its characters and their inner lives, and culminates in a truth-telling speech that approaches Festen levels of raw feeling. This is intelligent, intimate, lived-in drama that packs a startling punch.

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