Jim Broadbent plays Nick Burrows, Lindsay Duncan his wife Meg. They are going off to Paris to celebrate their 30th anniversary by reliving their honeymoon. It feels like they’ve been married much longer.
They are coming from Moseley, a suburb of Birmingham, England, a dreary city where Nick teaches at the Polytechnic at Birmingham University. Nick is not happy at his job and has not yet told his wife he has been asked to take early retirement.
Departing the train, full of anticipation, they trudge up to Montmartre having planned to stay in the same hotel they did for their honeymoon. Upon arriving, they drop their bags, stunned at the decay that time has wrought. The hotel has seen better days, as have they.
More trudging upstairs, they discover their room, whose décor matches their mood. Nick tries to make light of it, “On tiptoe, with a telescope, you can see the Hunchback of Notre Dame’s ass!”
Meg Britshly bitches “Beige!!!!” Nick, ever the mollifier, responds “Yes, there’s a certain light brownness about it, yes.”
While Nick is asking the hotel manager for a room with a different color (?), Meg storms off to hail a cab, Nick barely reaches it in time to join her. It’s a very mean gesture, and Meg says some very mean things over the course of this very long weekend.
Drunk with the beauty of Paris, Meg directs the taxi to stop in front of a luxury hotel they can’t afford, leaving Nick to pay the 60€ fare (inflated for tourists) they also can’t afford.
They live this weekend pretending to be different people than the defeated, British empty-nesters they really are. This charade brings out a different side of Meg, one who’s sometimes nicer to Nick, most often in response to external stimuli such as the reward of a room at the “full” hotel which they may have earned with their pathetic hours-long presence in its lobby.
Another example is the chance crossing of paths with Morgan (Jeff Goldblum), a friend from Nick’s university days at Cambridge. Director Roger Michell describes Morgan as ” …an American who has lived a contrasting life to Nick’s in spite of some of their shared academic and philosophical ideals.”
That’s quite charitable. In fact, Morgan has been more successful than Nick, achieving fame and some fortune that provoke Nick’s envy and self-loathing. Morgan is vague and deprecating about his success, unwilling to give specifics to satisfy Nick’s urgent need to know how he has done so well for himself.
“It’s about enduring relationships and how one prevails when faced with the challenges of boredom,” says Goldblum. “How do you renew things? At a later point in your life, how do you still engage?”
That’s ironic considering that the character of Morgan is not that dissimilar from Goldblum; Goldblum renews things by upgrading his girlfriends for a younger model every few years.
Morgan is on his post-mid life crisis second family. He, his young wife Eve (Judith Davis), and their new baby live off the Rue de Rivoli (the Parisian equivalent of Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue). Of course they have an an abundant, stimulating circle of friends who are on show at the dinner party to which Morgan has invited the couple.
Michell: “Goldblum manages to make the global academic both ridiculous and sympathetic.”
Ridiculous, yes, sympathetic, no.
I’ve personally known the kind of elitist Americans who live in Paris and are curiously invited to appear on France 24‘s English language channel as experts- no matter the subject. They are academics and artists, predominantly – not business executives- trapped in an exile they to which they won’t admit; living in Paris gives them a cachet they would lose if they were to return to the U.S. and swim with the big fish.
Morgan pretentiously uses the French slang practice of abbreviating words: “I almost had a thrombo!” Oh! He’s so branché!
The dinner party is a typically British drama where Meg plans to publicly cuckold Nick with an insufferable existential yet handsome young Frenchman, Jean-Pierre (Xavier De Guillebon), who seduces her with the heavily-accented line: What a great thing- to be at truth with your own unhappiness.”
More dinner party drama includes the revelation that Morgan’s first wife attempted suicide after he dumped her. Also the one wherein Nick cheated on Meg.
His son Michael (Olly Alexander) from that marriage, upon meeting Meg and Nick, exclaims with the proud American penchant for truth,” A weekend in Paris, what a drag.”
From the mouths of adolos ….
Enfin, Nick has rediscovers his couilles and is about to make a strong exit when Morgan stops him, offering him an unasked for signed copy of his new book. He inscribes it: “Read My Lips.”
Michell said, “We didn’t want it simply to be a bickering couple in Paris, but more about the algebra of marriage.”
That has to be the most unappealing description I’ve ever heard used in reference to the institution of love. The main fault of the movie rests in that very frame of reference: one doesn’t learn algebra over a weekend, much less a school year. To chart a graph of the ups and downs of thirty years of marriage over a weekend feels forced and false.
This movie appears targeted to the recently identified “geriatic demographic.”
I’m too young, too unmarried, and too American to enjoy this trip to Paris.