Friday, May 08, 2009

Last Chance Harvey: Grade C

Last Chance Harvey (2008)
Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson. Writer-director Joel Hopkins.

Hoffman is an American businessman in London for the wedding of his estranged daughter. Just before going there, he was put on probation by his boss, so he is doubly upset when he learns that he is only tolerated, not really welcome at the wedding. We have no explanation why he is in trouble at work or why he is not welcome at the wedding, but Hoffman does his hurt and bewildered Willy Loman act to great effect. He misses his flight back to New York and is fired. Depressed, he meets Thompson in an airport restaurant and strikes up a conversation. It is just barely plausible that they find an immediate friendship which develops quickly thereafter into affection. Her character is a lonely single in her forties (Thomson is actually 50), and we might believe she would be open to friendship with a 70 year old American she just met and knows nothing about. For him, the motivation is completely opaque. Implausibly, he convinces her to attend the reception after the wedding, where they bond, and eventually, the two of them walk off into the sunset hand in hand.

The story starts well, with scenes from Hoffman’s life intercut with parallel scenes from Thompson’s. Both actors demonstrate why they are truly great in these opening scenes. After the restaurant meeting however, the story switches from existential angst and humor to sentimental claptrap and by the time they go to the wedding reception, the script has degenerated to adolescent melodrama, from which it never recovers. Likewise direction starts out crisply but then degenerates to cliché montages indicating “romance.” Music begins with an interesting piano tune based on a Satie groove, but quickly mutates into loud, noxious, relentless orchestration. Overall, the fine acting in the first half makes the movie worth seeing, but the last half could be skipped entirely.

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