Last Chance Harvey ***
Directed by Joel Hopkins
Written by Joel Hopkins
Dustin Hoffman as Harvey Shine
Emma Thompson as Kate Walker
Eileen Atkins as Maggie Walker
Kathy Baker as Jean
Liane Balaban as Susan
James Brolin as Brian
Richard Schiff as Marvin
Rated PG-13 for brief strong language.
"Last Chance Harvey" is founded on the chemistry between its two leads, in this case Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson. In a film that is very dialogue heavy, and filled with several scenes of the leads walking around and talking to one another about their lives, it needs two leads that can be charismatic and charming enough to pull it off, much like Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke in the "Before Sunrise/Sunset" films. Without it, it just won't work. It would be the equivalent of walking a stale conversation on the bus or on the train. Even with it, "Last Chance Harvey" isn't a must-see or a groundbreaking work of cinema, but its a pleasant enough way to spend an hour and a half, especially with the gently wonderful performances by Hoffman and Thompson.
The two do not even formally meet until about a half hour in, but they do cross paths in in their travels, an element of the films screenplay that I felt excessive. At the start, Harvey Shine seems to be a success, doing music for commericals, but never able to compose anything that he wrote. He is on his way to London for his daughter's wedding, which he has to leave after the ceremony to go to an important meeting. Once in London, he learns that will be in the hotel and his ex-wife has given everyone else a rented house on the beach. And he also learns that his daughter, Susan, wishes for her stepfather to walk her down the asle and give her away instead of Harvey. After the wedding, Harvey slips out, but doesn't make his plane- the last straw for his boss who fires him. This introduces him to Kate, the two of them in the airport bar at the same time. Kate works in the airport, and also lives in close proximity to her mother, who is constantly harrassing her with phone calls about her suspicions over the next door neighbor, who she believes is a killer. Kate is awkward at meeting men, and she is apprenhensive about having lunch with Harvey. But the lunch turns into a walk, and the walk turns into returning to the wedding reception, and that turns into an all night talk that makes harvey reconsider his priorities.
In a film like this, it is easy to sway to convention to take the easy way out. And while some elements of the script do this, like the two of them bumping into each other at early points in the film without knowing each other, others really craft realistic people out of the two of them. For example, Kate wishes to be a writer, but her goal is to write a bestseller that could be read on a plane or a beach. She does not set these massively high goals for herself, because she is grounded in reality. Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson essentially are this movie, and they give this seen plot a breath of fresh air. And its nice watching the two of them, in a plot not overly complicated because its not necessary to be so. When the script by Joel Hopkins is grounded in the conversations between these two characters, than it is a success. When it drifts to a rather useless comic relief subplot concerning Eileen Atkins, as Kate's mother, accusing her brute neighbor of being a killer, it is just wasting time and energy of everyone involved. If that subplot actually went somewhere, that would be one thing, or even enhanced some of the more realistic themes that would be another. But it does neither of those things, and just sits there being a forgettable addition in an otherwise good film.
And that simply all there is to it. It's not a conflict to see this movie or not because you know exactly what you are in for. There are no surprises. But there need not be. Is it so hard to enjoy a pleasant romance from time to time, watching two actors doing their best? Sure there is better fare out there, including a masterful time sweeping love story in the form of "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," but "Last Chance Harvey" offers a welcome diversion. It's interesting how I saw this film the same day as the delightful "Moscow, Belgium," as they both offer romances with realistic characters, and the two make nice companions to one another. This is a good film that will get a reputation by the more pretentious cinephiles, but it is a worthy addition to the genre.