© 2009 Ray Wong
There have not been a lot of romance about middle-aged people. The last one I remember was Something's Gotta Give (2003). It's refreshing to see a gentle love story starring two of our best actors.
Harvey Shine (Dustin Hoffman) is a grouchy jingle writer who is seen as a dinosaur by his peers. He's being phased out by his company because they think he's out of touch and quite an embarrassment. He's going to London to attend his daughter's wedding, but he can't wait to get back to work immediately to show his boss that he's still in the game. Upon arriving in London, he feels out of place and ostracized by his own family, including ex-wife Jean (Kathy Baker), her new husband Brian (James Brolin), and estranged daughter Susan (Liane Balaban).
Harvey decides to cut the trip short and skip the wedding reception. But he misses his plane and ultimately gets fired over the phone. There, as he feels like he's hit bottom, he meets airport employee Kate (Emma Thompson). Kate is a lonely single woman whose life seems to revolve around her lonely, widowed mother (Eileen Atkins) and getting set up on lousy blind dates. At first, she is cold to Harvey but eventually the two hit it off. Harvey, perhaps feeling he has nothing to lose, pursues Kate despite her hesitation.
Dustin Hoffman (Mr. Magorium's Wonderful Emporium) and Emma Thompson (Brideshead Revisited) reunite in this romantic drama after their successful pairing in the surreal Stranger than Fiction. It's excellent to see both veteran actors at top form. Mr. Hoffman is expertly self-effacing, sad, curmudgeonly, and genuine. We clearly see a man rather lost with himself and his life and his past mistakes, and Hoffman's performance is nuanced and touching. He's able to portray an ass without being an ass about it.
Likewise, Ms. Thompson is expertly vulnerable, gentle and sad. There's one scene during her blind date in which she displays a whole range of emotions without uttering one word. It shows us her remarkable talent and skills as an actress. She and Hoffman also have excellent on-screen chemistry together. You almost believe they're a real couple.
The supporting cast is mostly background players while the focus is almost always on Hoffman and Thompson. They've done a good job, especially Eileen Atkins (Evening) as Kate's neurotic mother and Kathy Baker (The Jane Austen Book Club) as Harvey's estranged ex-wife. Both actresses help ground the film by giving the central characters unique relationships. In particular, the codependent relationship between Kate and her mother is realistically funny and sad at the same time. Richard Schiff (Martian Child) has a small and unsympathetic role as Harvey's boss. James Brolin (Mysterious) is mostly minor as the man who replaces Harvey in his daughter's life, and Liane Balaban (Beware of Dog) is beautifully conflicted as the estranged daughter.
Written and directed by Joel Hopkins (Jorge), the story is simple and straightforward. There's really nothing earthshakingly new here, just a simple boy-meets-girl story involving two lonely middle-aged people. However, the screenplay is filled with insightful nuances and observations, and witty dialogue that feels genuine and real. The relationships, especially between the two protagonists and their immediate families, feels authentic as well. The script is full of delightful moments, dialogue and genuine sentiments. It's definitely a feel-good movie.
The only thing I find puzzling is that Harvey's family, including his daughter, seems rather cruel and cold-hearted when it comes to his involvement in the wedding. Yes, we know he's been estranged from them, but the script doesn't give us enough background to understand how things got to that point. He is, after all, still the bride's father. There's a missed opportunity when Harvey and Jean have a heart-to-heart chat, but we're left with just a passing remark of why things didn't work out between them.
There are also a few trite moments that I feel is a bit forced as far as the plot is concerned. They're also rather predictable, thus losing their effectiveness in an otherwise sweet, fun little film. Hopkins direction is very straightforward; he mainly stays out of the way and allows his actors do their job.
Last Chance Harvey is a very small film with big stars. There's nothing really new here, but what transpires is a sweet film that offers keen observations about human relationships. It is a little film that shows a lot of heart. And it's awesome to see Hoffman and Thompson flexing their dramatic muscles in something quiet and nuanced. They're superb. If you haven't seen this lovely September-September romance yet, this may be your last chance.
Stars: Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, Eileen Atkins, Kathy Baker, Liane Balaban, James Brolin, Richard Schiff
Director: Joel Hopkins
Writers: Joel Hopkins
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for brief strong language
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Script – 8
Performance – 9
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 7
Editing – 7
Production – 7
Total – 7.8 out of 10