Monday 25 January 2010

Last Chance Harvey (2009)

What kind of anomaly is this? A fairly likeable new Hollywood romance with characters who are actually believable and quite endearing? I’d begun to think I’d never live to see the day. But Last Chance Harvey (2009) has a couple of qualities that are in pretty short supply in the American cinema these days: charm, and some warmth and affection for its protagonists. Taking place, satisfyingly, over a couple of days, the movie (written and directed by Joel Hopkins) is about the relationship between two rather rumpled people: the titular Harvey (Dustin Hoffman) and Kate (Emma Thompson). Harvey’s a jingle-writer who’s come to London from the States for his almost-estranged daughter’s wedding; Kate conducts surveys at Heathrow. After some initial resistance (particularly on Kate’s part), these two find themselves drawn to each other.

The movie starts off better than it ends up, losing some of its appeal midway in a dull wedding reception sequence that facilitates predictable reconciliations; you’d have had more respect for the characters (not to mention the filmmakers) if they’d skipped this horrible event. Nonetheless, both Hoffman and Thompson establish a deeply sympathetic rapport with the audience in their initial scenes: you actually want these two to meet up. It’s pleasing to find a movie with characters who have plausible histories and who aren’t just rattling off “smart” (ie. dumb) quips and one-liners at each other all the time. Hopkins’s script could have been sharper, but Hoffman and Thompson both work well with what they have, and the movie deftly avoids the cringe-factor of a Something’s Gotta Give (2003).

Last Chance Harvey isn’t what you’d call visually inspired, either, but it’s seldom lifeless and there’s some incidental fun to be had in spotting London-landmarks: Kate and Harvey spend quite a bit of time Southbank-side. (One question, though: since when were creative writing classes held in the Olivier foyer of the National Theatre?) Watch out, too, for a rather quaint anti-xenophobia subplot in which Kate’s querulous and lonely mother (great Eileen Atkins, underused) discovers that her Polish neighbour isn’t the serial killer she’d imagined him to be and is, in fact, not only quite a nice guy, but also a potential paramour. How does she find this out? He gives her a ham. The key to peaceful Anglo-Polish relations has been found.

1 comment:

  1. another interesting post Alex.
    I watched this film on a flight to San franscisco,so not the best forum to see a new feature.and I must admit I found the whole thing rather pediestrian.
    These "twilight" romance films seem 10 a penny (to me anyway) and watching LAST CHANCE, didn't give me anything really new.
    Now having said this, I absolutely adore EMMA THOMPSON.....she has heart, soul and most importantly WARMTH, and she brings all these qualities to this movie, which just about saves it, she ALONE is worth the price of a cinema ticket.
    ps.The odd on my nerves!