Last Chance Harvey
2008, PG-13, 99 min. Directed by Joel Hopkins. Starring Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, Eileen Atkins, Kathy Baker, Liane Balaban, James Brolin, Richard Schiff.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Jan. 16, 2009
Harvey (Hoffman) has lost his zest for his job, which is in jeopardy, plus he's experiencing difficulties with his estranged family. Kate (Thompson) has a job that no one could like, plus her cell phone rings constantly with superfluous calls from her mother (Atkins). There's about a 20-year age difference between Harvey and Kate, and he's a Yank, and she's a Brit, but otherwise, they are solidly middle-aged characters who meet and enjoy each other's company over the course of a day and then mutually grab on to what seems to each like a last chance for love. With its thin plot and its title character an American abroad in London, Last Chance Harvey comes across as something like a Before Sunrise for the less-than-nubile set. Were that writer/director Hopkins' dialogue and visualization as scintillating as Richard Linklater's is in his Sunrise/Sunset romances. Of course, the combined acting brilliance of Hoffman and Thompson could elevate the hoariest of clichés and turn almost anything they touch golden – and that is most often the case with Last Chance Harvey. But no one's skills can transcend the kooky banality of a trying-on-dresses montage or burnish the somewhat creepy way in which Harvey first comes on to Kate. Still, these two prove a pleasure to watch, and their conversations are realistic troves of give and take. In this they are complemented by an outstanding cast of players, who also do more than their share of elevating the material. Last Chance Harvey is so much an "actors' film" that the hand of the director seems hidden until it bursts into view with something clunky like the aforementioned montage. As his daughter whose nuptials Harry is in London to attend, Balaban exudes a lovely naturalism that straddles fondness and insensitivity as she explains to Harvey that she has asked her stepfather to give her away instead of him. Brolin is that stepfather who is married to Harvey's ex-wife (Baker), a pair who easily convey a sense of everything Harvey is not. And as Kate's incessantly interrupting mom, Atkins adds a spark of levity to the story. Middle-aged romances are, sadly, hard to find on the silver screen, so it's with some hesitation I pronounce Last Chance Harvey not up to snuff. Yet if we are to see any more romances starring characters old enough to have witnessed both Hoffman and Thompson winning Oscars, it's our responsibility to go out and support this one. 'Snuff said.