Thursday, May 14, 2009

Movie Log: Last Chance Harvey

It's nice to see Emma Thompson in a romantic comedy role, even if they've got her looking old enough to be a plausible match for Dustin Hoffman. Unfortunately, it's in Last Chance Harvey, a solid slab of Hollywood schmaltz (set mostly set in London).

Hoffman is Harvey Shine, an aging writer of commercial jingles, on the verge of being kicked out of his job by the usual young whippersnappers. (The one we actually see, though, is pleasant and friendly, almost deferential.) At some time in the long past, his marriage with Jean (Kathy Baker) ended, and Jean decamped to London with their daughter Susan (Liane Balaban), eventually having a successful second marriage with Brian (James Brolin). And now Harvey is flying over to London for Susan's wedding; it's never explicitly said, but he clearly hasn't seen her for a long time and probably was completely absent from her life. Harvey is played by Hoffman, so he's a little too forward, chatty and in-your-face, particularly for the UK.

Meanwhile, Thompson is Kate Walker, an aging spinster caring for a mother, Maggie (Eileen Atkins), who is increasingly worried that her nice Polish neighbor is burying bodies in the back yard. Kate works at Heathrow quizzing travellers, and she bumps into Harvey there...but he brushes her off.

This is more of a "how Dustin Hoffman finds love" movie than a "here's the story of these two people" one, so the focus is on Hoffman except for brief moments here and there. It also takes its time about getting them together -- Hoffman has to suffer through a rehearsal dinner at which he's the umpteenth wheel, and then dive out the back of the wedding ceremony right at the good bit -- and then doesn't manage to generate much chemistry for a long time. They meet at an airport cafe, and Harvey is annoying and self-centered; Kate merely tolerates him, and then takes pity on him.

They wander off into London together, still without any spark. Harvey isn't trying to pull Kate -- the idea is more that he's desperately lonely and reaching out to the only person he can -- but this is all driven by the needs of the plot, and it's difficult to see what Kate sees in Harvey (since she, unlike the audience, doesn't know he's Dustin Hoffman, movie star). They do have some good scenes towards the end, but they don't seem to plausibly like each other until about an hour into a ninety-minute movie.

I like the idea of a late-in-life romantic comedy, and both of these actors are good at what they do, but Last Chance Harvey, despite being a pleasant stroll, doesn't take much advantage of its material. And Emma Thompson can be much funnier than this -- and look vastly better (it was fifteen years earlier, but check her out in Much Ado About Nothing for great examples of both).

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