Although there are a number of visual references to the films of the French New Wave in Roger Michell's rambunctious romance Le Week-End, they are only local color in what amounts to a fetching but unmemorable piece of vacation porn.
The British couple played by Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan may repeatedly copy the choreography from Jean-Luc Godard's Bande à Part in an attempt to express their youthful joie de vivre, but Le Week-End is inspired by the Nouvelle Vague in the same way that a Galaxy chocolate commercial is inspired by the film performances of Audrey Hepburn.
Michell borrows choreography and half a title from Godard, and yet a more comparable French cinema antecedent to Le Week-End is Claude Lelouch's sprightly and vapid A Man and a Woman, right down to the jazz-wallpaper score. That stylish and wispy 1966 romance was about two beautiful but emotionally damaged lovers who continually drift apart because of their personal demons, and at times Le Week-End feels like it picks up that couple's story as graying empty nesters.
The breezy charm of Le Week-End is largely due to the lead actors: Broadbent and Duncan play off each other with a bodily familiarity and easy irritation that feels totally lived-in. There is a lifetime of sexual negotiation in Broadbent's voice when he lustily but tentatively asks Duncan, "Would it be OK for me to bravely mount you?" They play an aging couple who have hit a dead end, and attempt to use a 30th anniversary Paris weekend to rekindle their spark, but it quickly becomes an occasion to open old wounds and assess their troubled marriage.
Irresponsible impulses take over, and much of the film is dedicated to the vicarious thrill of raiding expensive hotel mini-bars and skipping out on dinner checks. "Do you think you're bipolar?" Broadbent giddily asks Duncan as she drags him from another bill he can't possibly pay. Even more of Le Week-End is dedicated to the vicarious thrill of taking a beyond-your-means Paris vacation — loitering in front of café menus, dining in chic bistros, watching Bande à Part on a hotel TV, and seeing the Eiffel Tower from the hotel balcony, even if it's just the postcard background for another bitter argument.
Broadbent specializes in this sort of loosened-tie fussbudgetry, and he even sells one those soul-baring speech scenes in which he explains the entire film to anyone who hadn't been paying attention. When he admits to a more successful admirer, "I'm shitting myself with fear and anxiety," Broadbent sells it with a mix of humorous self-deprecation and genuine terror.
Duncan is a revelation as the more brittle and dissatisfied of the duo, and does a great job alternating between dour withdrawal and childlike glee, even demanding to be chased at one point.
If Michell had trusted their chemistry to carry the film, it could have been more than just a pleasing time-filler. Unfortunately, he and writer Hanif Kureishi weigh the couple down with too much character baggage, including an underdeveloped relationship with their son that only serves as a ticking clock. The playfulness starts to feel forced toward the end, as Broadbent and Duncan keep replaying the same basic scenes over and over again. Like so many vacations, Le Week-End wears out much of its appeal well before the trip home.