Providing a glimpse of what Before Midnight’s Jesse and Celine might be like in 20 years’ time, Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan’s long-married couple bicker and fret through a weekend in Paris in this bittersweet comedy-drama, the latest collaboration between director Roger Michell and writer Hanif Kureishi after such ventures as The Buddha of Suburbia on TV and The Mother and Venus at the cinema.
Broadbent’s philosophy lecturer Jim and Duncan’s biology teacher Meg are optimistically hoping to relive their honeymoon in the city of light 30 years earlier. Jim has even booked the same hotel, but when it turns out to be drab and disappointing Meg takes charge and recklessly checks them into one of the city’s grandest hotels, a place far beyond their means. (They end up in the ‘Prestige Suite’, where Tony Blair once slept.)
Yet far from reviving a stale marriage, the weekend quickly brings the tensions in their relationship to the fore, strains that are only exacerbated when they run into Jim’s old Cambridge friend Morgan (flamboyantly played by Jeff Goldblum). A rich and famous writer now married to a much younger Parisienne, Morgan invites Jim and Meg to a party at his imposing apartment, where some painful home truths about their lives get a very public airing.
For a moment, you fear/hope that the film is about to head into Edward Albee territory, but Broadbent and Duncan’s characters, for all their rubbed-raw irritation with one another, are nowhere near as savage as Albee’s George and Martha. Instead, this is a funny-sad, shrewdly observant portrait of a marriage, and of the disappointed dreams and thwarted ambitions of late-middle age.
Broadbent and Duncan are at the top of their game (and Goldblum’s extended cameo is terrific, too); Kureishi sprinkles his script with plenty of quotable zingers (Duncan gets the best: ‘If it’s the end of the world I want to go down gulping oysters.’ ‘Each time I take off my knickers I think there’s going to be an eclipse.’); and Michell plays deft homage to French cinema, with a delightful reworking of a famous scene from Godard’s Bande à part that will ensure you leave the cinema smiling.
Certificate 15. Runtime 93 mins. Director Roger Michell.
To activate the sound in the trailer: hold your cursor over the screen to reveal the control panel and click on the volume control in the bottom right-hand corner.