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Portrait of a couple on the verge of a nervous breakup

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Lindsay Duncan and Jim Broadbent

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Lindsay Duncan and Jim Broadbent

Too many marriages end over that one blunt accusation hurled on the way to court -- "You never listen."

If every couple were as biting and witty as Meg and Nick in Le Week-End, there'd be no excuse for that. Two aging Brits on a last-ditch weekend trek to Paris to save their marriage, they may be the most quotable feuding couple this side of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf.

He (Jim Broadbent) is desperate to make one last throw of the dice to save them as a couple. Nick is wrapped up "in the physical dread of desertion." She (Lindsay Duncan) is the bored wife, desperate to do the deserting.

They're in the City of Light, but he's fretting over the cost of everything. She's willing to bail out of a budget hotel room over the fact that there's no view and the walls are beige. No sense budgeting for dinner, either.

The writer and director of Peter O'Toole's last good film, Venus, re-team here for a smart, snappy and deeply sad survey of a doomed marriage, a needy, clinging man and a wife who is by turns cruel, playful, dismissive -- and needy herself.

"What gorgeous hell is this?" she asks at one point.

"They're French. I'm sure their lives are awful, too."

Nick and Meg are not new to Paris. They know which museums to hit, which meals have delighted them, which walks will restore their souls. And nothing is working. Meg wants thrills, novelty, adventure.

Director Roger Michell and screenwriter Hanif Kureishi treat this as a spirited, compact two-hander, basically a stage play with Paris scenery as its setting. Their insights on a marriage that cannot hit its reset button, the yearning escapism of vacation magnified by what this weekend will mean to their couple's future, is amusing and discomfittingly on the money.

Nick and Meg can't live in the past, can't escape their present (phone calls from a mooch of a son interrupt some moments), can't reconcile the fact that she's made her mind up to move on unless they can find that one memory, or create one new one, to save them.

And then Nick's old college chum shows up, and since he's played by the bubbly, gregarious Jeff Goldblum, he's sure to either re-ignite the sparks of their love or set off the bomb that tears them apart once and for all.

Le Week-End features another helping of reliably brittle and vulnerable work from Broadbent (Iris, The Iron Lady) and gives Duncan the chance to show a mercurial side in what must be her best big-screen role ever. And sure, Goldblum is always best at being Jeff Goldblum, and his oily/silky charm tends to unbalance the neat, brittle little tragedy we're watching.

But Le Week-End benefits from his breezy third-act appearance. If ever a troubled couple needed a whirlwind distraction from all their domestic woes, it is Meg and Nick.

-- McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 11, 2014 D10

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