Release Date: Dec. 25 (limited)
Director/Writer: Joel Hopkins
Cinematographer: John de Borman?
Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, Eileen Atkins, James Brolin, Kathy Baker
Studio/Run Time: Overture Films, 99 mins.
Run-of-the-mill rom-com from top-shelf cast
With two Oscar-winning leads, Last Chance Harvey is the kind of
movie you want to be great—with a capital G. It’s not just the talent
of the stars that spurs this expectation, but their uncanny ability to
choose excellent roles, even as co-stars (their previous joint effort
being the quietly poignant Stranger Than Fiction), which is why Last Chance Harvey is ultimately disappointing.
Unfair? Perhaps. But you could argue it’s equally unfair of writer/director Joel Hopkins to line up the heavyweight showdown of Youth vs. Middle Age and tug at heart strings with a truly touching estranged father/daughter wedding scene, only to offer a conventional romantic comedy in the end. Despite its initial indications otherwise, that’s exactly what Last Chance Harvey ends up being: a rom-com with old people. (At least it’s not a rom-com for old people a la Nights in Rodanthe.)
As indicated by the title, Harvey (Dustin Hoffman) is a man at the end of his rope. He’s wanted nothing more in life than to be a jazz pianist, but he’s composing commercial jingles—apparently, not very well. Before he leaves New York for the wedding of his daughter Susan (Liane Balaban) in London, his boss makes it clear that he might as well not come back. But Harvey seems determined to get his titular last chance, opting to leave his daughter’s wedding early to fly back, only to miss his flight and be fired while at Heathrow.
This is doubly devastating, as this job is all Harvey has. In one of the film’s best scenes, Susan breaks the news to her father that she’s asking her stepdad (James Brolin) to walk her down the aisle. Meanwhile, Kate (Emma Thompson), a middle-aged woman who has no one but her mother (who continually calls her cell), goes through the motions in London. Literally. She’s constantly on the move—nary a scene goes by without her rushing. And whenever she’s stationary—painfully, on an ill-fated blind date with a man whom she thought was in the (wink, wink) stationery business—she’s out of her element.
Perhaps that’s why, when Harvey and Kate meet and challenge each other to a “shitty day” contest only to learn how much they have in common, they walk through London for nearly the rest of the film. Here’s where the trouble begins. Hoffman’s Harvey, at first awkward and terribly sad, is now awkward and terribly creepy. One has trouble understanding why the much more fetching, socially gracious, 20-plus-years-his-junior Kate would want to be with him. For the first half of the movie, before they meet, Hopkins tries to pre-explain, cutting directly from parallel Harvey scene to parallel Kate scene (Harvey looking sad at a bar; Kate looking sad at a pub). The film grapples with the question but never pins it down, and the story wriggles away in a neat, happy-ending rubric.
Last Chance Harvey is not without surface pleasures and the actors remind us why they’re at the top of their fields; it’s not their fault if there’s less within the story than they—and we—deserve.