Rated R. Running time: 1 hour 33 min.
Our Advisories: Violence 0; Language 2; Sex/Nudity 4.
Our star rating (1-5): 4.5
Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that are given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun.
Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.
1 Thessalonians 5:11
Chalk up another engaging film about the elderly, though not at all warm and fuzzy like some films featuring an elderly couple. Director Roger Michell and screenwriter Hanif Kureishi’s film stars Lindsay Duncan and Jim Broadbent as Nick and Meg Burrows taking the Eurostar from London to Paris to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their marriage during a weekend. Actually, their motives are less to celebrate than to rejuvenate the romance in their almost dead relationship. Birmingham college philosophy professor Nick probably has higher hopes than schoolteacher Meg that the marriage can be saved. She recoils each time he tries to touch or cuddle her.
Meg also recoils in revulsion from the hotel Nick has booked because it is where they had stayed during their honeymoon. It has been redecorated, with the rooms all painted a dull beige, so that she walks out and books them into a posh hotel that only Nick knows they can ill afford. They enjoy the glorious view of the Eiffel Tower for a minute or less, and then she lavishly consumes the small bottles of wine and liqueurs from their room’s well-stocked refrigerator, as well as the more expensive eat-in-your-room meals. They visit all the tourist sites, but none rekindle anything close to romance, especially in Meg’s heart. When he tries to kiss her in a church, disapproving worshipers hiss at them. At times their barbed interchanges might bring to mind Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, although neither of them rant as long or as intensely as the characters in that marital donnybrook. Meg says of Jim’s lovemaking, “It’s not love — it’s like being arrested.” Jim says to her, “This last five or ten years, your vagina has become something of a closed book.”
Meg longs to have more experiences to enrich herself, and so when their dead-beat son phones to ask that he and his wife be allowed to move back home with them, she refuses.
She does agree to go with Jim to a party to which a former American student and admirer of her husband invites them. They have encountered Morgan (Jeff Goldblum) on the street, and he is so genuinely enthused over reconnecting with his old professor and mentor that he urges them to come to the party celebrating the publication of his new collection of essays.
After purchasing some new duds, they show up at the affair, and after introductions, go their separate ways. The still attractive wife is propositioned by one of the guests, while Jim, spying in a bedroom Morgan’s teenaged son from his first marriage visiting for a brief time, chats with the boy and shares one of his weeds. At dinner, after paying compliments to his new (and pregnant) wife, Morgan surprises Nick by spending more time effusively praising his former teacher and paying tribute to his inspiring him back in his student days than talking about his new book. Meg, who has accepted the admirer’s invitation to a late night rendezvous, is also surprised—and even more so when Jim rises and inappropriately launches a tirade of woes that includes the revelation of the humiliating reason for his concern over the costs incurred over the weekend.
Their exit from the party and experience with the management back at their hotel are as unsettling as everything else that has transpired during the weekend. The two find that in Paris their long repressed feelings of disappointment, rage, and longing for more freedom (the latter on Meg’s part, Nick preferring stability more) burst forth more readily. Meg does not meet “for a drink” the man who had hit upon her, but matters are still up in the air between these two. The film and its principals are wonderful at displaying a couple who have a long history once filled with mutual affection and acceptance, but whose marriage might still be very much in jeopardy when hey arrive back at home.
This film is a far cry from Still Mine or Unfinished Song, but it reflects the reality of many long-married couples who both love and loathe that intractable person they promised to love and cherish “as long as each shall live.” They seem to be a very secularized couple who would benefit from a faith anchoring them to a reality greater than themselves. We can only hope that something will keep them together—could it be the man who has sold out to success and shallow values, Morgan whom Nick calls for help at the end? Unlikely, and yet stranger things have happened. The dance of the three of them to the bistro’s jukebox music does seem like a ray of hope.