Opens Fri., April 11 at Guild 45th. Rated R. 93 minutes.
If a British couple making a misguided trip to Paris to save their marriage sounds like a cliched plot, rest assured it’s not. This is no midlife crisis movie a la Woody Allen or Judd Apatow. In fact, our protagonists are past middle age, in their 60s even—an age group that most films avoid like the plague. (Unless they star the likes of Diane Keaton or Alec Baldwin bumbling through one slapstick joke after another.) Instead, we meet still-beautiful Meg (Lindsay Duncan) with her sculpted cheekbones and long blonde hair, and Nick (Jim Broadbent), a sweet, goofy-ish philosophy professor who confesses on the trip that he’s just been sacked from his job.
From the first scene their dysfunction is evident: Arriving at a third-rate hotel, Meg’s silent fury at Nick grows hysterical as she huffs off, hails a cab, and checks them into a gorgeous suite at a luxe hotel. From there, the weekend perfectly encapsulates this trenchant quote from Liane Moriarty’s novel The Husband’s Secret: “Marriage was a form of insanity; love hovering permanently on the edge of aggravation.” As Nick makes one loving overture after another, Meg’s aggravation with him—and downright cruelty—becomes increasingly palpable, even as she tries to check it. When Nick falls on the street and badly hurts his knee, she runs to him, the worried wife trying to help him up—yet ultimately walks away scoffing at his weakness. (Their push-pull dynamic is expertly rendered by the veteran team of director Roger Michell and screenwriter Hanif Kureishi, previous collaborators on The Mother and Venus.)
Despite Nick and Meg’s 30-year rut and the loathsome jabs that result, there are exquisite moments of levity, like when they dine and dash at a pricey Parisian restaurant, or chase each other through the halls of their grand hotel. Also here are unexpected moments of passion: a long kiss on the street, an almost discomfiting scene of sexual masochism. The weekend culminates at a posh dinner party thrown by Nick’s old Cambridge buddy, played appropriately neurotically by Jeff Goldblum, where both this marriage’s frailty and its endurance are beautifully, achingly captured.