Well, if this is what it takes, OK!
Hollywood has plodded for so long and so ineffectually in the matter of middle-age and older-age romance that it now takes two of filmdom’s most eloquent and theatrically beautiful players to get the chemistry together and do it.
“Last Chance Harvey,” the film, is not flawless but it is eminently honest, wonderfully satisfying to behold in the integrity of its two stars, and a joy to watch. We are talking here about two movie stars who are fine-tuned like two concert violinists picking up and interpreting each other’s vibes instantaneously. Here is dialogue, often quite witty, written at a written at a rare level of intelligence and sensitivity to actors’ talents. Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson find their skills pressed to the limits of quick response; what they achieve and deliver from this is a sometimes mesmerizing, but always disarming, flow of verbal communication as they act, react and inexorably draw you into a romance interweave that projects who they are — not kids, not 20-somethings or 30s — but two individuals with a lifetime of experience backing up their growing emotional and substantive involvement.
A key airport scene lets the two strangers go at each other in peppy patter and sizzling banter at the bar. Soon comfortable with each other, they’re circulating within a London that appears now younger than the traditional, leaving these two feeling perhaps out of it.
All alone at middle-age and love-disillusioned, Harvey Shine (Dustin Hoffman) and Kate Walker (Emma Thompson) are ripe for a relationship. With long-abandoned ambitions to be a jazz pianist, he has instead found himself on a waning career as a jingles writer. His present intention had been to stop into town for his daughter’s (Liane Balaban) wedding, although she’s estranged.
He openly admits to having been a negligent father. The cloud over his head and shoulders is pervasive. Kate Walker, on the other hand, who’s a wannabe writer, is doing her best polling airline passengers at Heathrow. That, of course, is how she’s met Harvey at the bar. And they’ll meet again, awkwardly, when a soused Harvey hops out of his cab just as Kate darts in.
What had happened in Harvey’s life is that his daughter had told him that she’d decided on her stepfather (James Brolin) to give her away at the wedding instead of him. And then Harvey’s boss had phoned to tell him he’s fired.
Meantime, Kate’s mom (Eileen Atkins) makes nonstop phone calls to her to advise her of a neighbor she’s been spying upon because she thinks he’s a serial killer.
In spite of all, life’s happenings bore both Harvey and Kate; they soon seem to be interested only in each other.
Hoffman gets laughs from even comically unfertile situations. Thompson as always, is inherently dignified, her grace and refinement serving the offsetting comedy momentum perfectly.
Some viewers, as I, may find that a woman who looks like that and carries herself like that is not convincing in the role of a life’s loser.
But, overwhelmingly, the energy generated by these two multiple-Oscar-winning performers radiates an exquisite respect in each other’s acting perfection.
“Last Chance Harvey” (quality rating: 7 out of 10)
Director: Joel Hopkins
Screenplay: Joel Hopkins
Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, Liane Balaban, James Brolin, Eilen Atkins, Kathy Baker
Time: 1 hr., 32 min.
Rating: PG-13 (brief vulgarity)
Marty Meltz is at http://www.martymoviereviews.com 30-year former films critic for the Award-winning Portland (Maine) Sunday Telegram. Offering right-to-the-point reviews that address directly the question of the film’s entertainment value to you. Films have personalities. It doesn’t matter who wrote it, who directs it, who stars in it, if it doesn’t reach out to you at your deepest levels. I examine its honesty and intelligence. Are you being respected, or are you being jerked around? How much did the film take on as a challenge? Did it pick up its point and run with it? Did you care about it? Does it care about you?