Sunday, November 1, 2009

Last Chance Harvey [movie review]

* Released theatrically in December 2008; now on DVD
Talk about a hidden gem. I hadn't heard a thing about this film, which probably has something to do with a fact it's a romantic comedy/drama that stars a female lead pushing 50 and a male lead on the north side of 70 that tanked when it came out earlier this year, earning just under $15 million in North America and about the same amount in the rest of the world. The movie didn't completely evade people's notice, did earn Golden Globe nominations for both Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson.
The protagonists' relatively advanced age is alone enough to make Last Chance Harvey a welcome rarity in the genre, although one still somewhat stuck in that accepted Hollywood practice of male/female lead age disparity. And the film isn't always that original, stooping at one point to a well-trodden "woman trying on dresses set to bouncy music" montage that feels completely out of step with the tone of the rest of the movie. But there's a conveyance of reserved optimism and yearning for more from life from Hoffman's and Thompson's damaged characters that is completely infectious to the viewer.
Hoffman's character (Harvey Shine) has some qualities that make it an uphill struggle in endearing him to the audience. He's a bit of a buffoon, a workaholic, standoffish and moody. By his own admission, he was a lousy father and husband. Still, the indignities and bad luck he experiences cumulatively manage to inspire a sympathy for his character that outweighs his flaws. Harvey's job security as an advertising music composer is hanging by a thread at the same time he must fly to London for the wedding of his daughter. Once there, his past failures as a husband and father are thrust back in his face in the most humiliating of ways. Along the way, he befriends Kate Walker (Emma Thompson), a 50-ish woman working a dreary job at an airline who appears to have few friends, no love life and an overly attentive mother.
Watching the two characters attempt to untether their emotional baggage in pursuit of a genuine, meaningful human connection is fascinating, a credit to the writing and impressive portrayals by Thompson and Hoffman. Director and writer Joel Hopkins has crafted a film that succeeds as the best romantic movie for the middle aged and over set since 2003's Something's Gotta Give.
Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆