Nearly-retired British couple vacations to Paris, finds out that she barely tolerates him and he only loves her out of the crippling fear of being isolated. Brought to you by the director of Hyde Park on Hudson. Everything on paper makes Le Week-End sound beyond endurance, but it surprisingly turns out to be extremely solid, the best thing Roger Michell has directed in ages, and the best script that Hanif Kureishi has seen filmed n nearly as long (given that they've been working together for a decade or more, this makes good sense). Even more impressively, it's because both of those men are doing exactly what they've been doing to no success for years; this just happens have been the right marriage of character, actor, scenario, and emotion to pay off with rich human behavior and not simply tearjerking.

The film concerns Meg (Lindsay Duncan) and Nick (Jim Broadbent), of Birmingham, visiting Paris for the first time in many years (the implication is that they honeymooned there) for their 30th anniversary. We are quickly made aware through Meg's sagging body language and tart line deliveries that getting her across the Channel was a serious concession on her part and a once-in-a-marriage victory for him; even having arrived, she's mostly content to criticise the whole venture, observing of the rinky hotel that seemed so much more romantic when they stayed there in youth, in a voice that could kill baby birds and kittens, "It's beige". Truth be told, the film constantly thinks about erring on the side of making Meg a relentless killjoy and Nick a simple fellow who's just trying overtime to make his wife happy, and for a good long while, it's only Duncan's sharply humane performance that keeps Meg feeling even marginally realistic and not just a caricature of a miserable old harpy. And during this phase of the movie, it is certainly hard to feel very much charity towards Le Week-End at all.

The more time we spend with the characters, though, the more we start to key in on how there are more interesting things at play. For one, Nick is revealed over time not to be the pleasant sentimentalist he seems from the onset, but a desperate figure, one convinced that his chance to do anything meaningful with his life has gone by, and his hectic attempts to please Meg are the result of his terror that if his marriage fails, he'll have absolutely nothing left that he hasn't ruined. And at the same time, Meg's own disillusionment is shown to be far more than just the short-tempered fatigue that it seems to be at first. Better yet, the film gets out of "watch a couple break up, angrily!" territory as quickly as possible, by intercutting scenes of Meg sniping and Nick grovelling with moments in which they both seem genuinely happy to share each other's company.

It's a wonderful little snapshot of a romantic relationship both blunted and polished by three decades of familiarity and comfort and tedium, where happiness and resentment are readily mingled bedfollows. "You can't not love and hate the same person, usually within the space of five minutes" says Nick at one point, in a line that perhaps states the movie's theme a little too precisely, though Broadbent does so much to save the sentiment with his delivery that it doesn't play as a contrivance; this is, in fact, true of a great deal of the film's dialogue, where Kureishi proves himself to be a little stiff and out-of-practice, but not so much that sensitive acting and directing can't put it over. Certainly, it's no more on-the-nose than Michell and DP Nathalie Durand using elements within the frame to separate or unite the characters depending on the emotional tenor of any given scene, something that makes up for in its effective simplicity what it lacks in visionary creativity.

As a walking tour of a European city where a couple at a very specific chronological epoch of life bickers and loves and has admirably frank conversations about sex (don't like to think about old people cunnilingus? Stay miles away), Le Week-End practically begs to be compared to the Linklater/Delpy/Hawke Before... movies, and it doesn't necessarily suffer for it. Duncan and Broadbent bring an incredible level of organic naturalism to their parts, and even when the rest of the film around them strains a little bit too earnestly for emotional resonance (most ruinously in a climactic dinner party where both characters Speak The Film's Message instead of behaving like anything resembling a normal human), they keep the characters deep and alive, brimming with a past shared history, responding to each others tics with fondness or annoyance or both. Mostly, though, the film doesn't need to be saved; it's coolly effective at presenting its characters in small gestures both in the writing and the image, steadily guiding them through a Stations of the Cross relationship crisis while behaving like a realist improv piece.

If there's one huge problem I have, it's that the film has a hard time regaining itself after the arrival of Nick's old colleague, Morgan (Jeff Goldblum), living the kind of professional successful fantasy life that Nick thinks he would have preferred; it's not that that the concept or scripting are bad, but Goldblum's acting is in a different register than Broadbent or Duncan's altogether, and it seriously imbalances the tone in ways that are thematically legitimate, but not, to my tastes, as interesting. Besides, the character also facilitates the least-effective scenes (the dinner party; Broadbent's overwritten brainstorming session with Morgan's pot-smoking son, played with agreeable unfussiness by Olly Alexander). And I'd give just about anything for Michell to have second-guessed a pair of references to Jean-Luc Godard's Band of Outsiders, the first of which already struck me as a bit hammy, and that's by far the more subtle of the two; the one that ends the film feels like porn for New Wave buffs, not like a natural end point for anything this movie. Still these are small problems, and the Goldblum one isn't even a problem, just personal taste. There's still plenty of wonderful character drama to go around, and if the whole thing doesn't gel quite well enough to stand proud as a great exemplar of the "relationship in turmoil" genre, it's still a smart and unsentimental sample of all the things that makes that genre worthwhile.