Last Chance Harvey
directed by Joel Hopkins
(Overture, 2008)

Let me tell you, this is a very self-aware film ... that is, if a film was ... or had, in fact ... a self ... but no matter!

Last Chance Harvey is as coherent and suave as my opening sentence. It's also unapologetic like my opening sentence; it swishes away all flaws concerning writing and acting with a wave of its hand and an air that says, "No matter! Let's just move on." The film most certainly does move on through a storyline that follows the dismal lives of American Harvey Shine (Dustin Hoffman) and Englishwoman Kate Walker (Emma Thompson). As two people separated by an entire ocean they are socially awkward and single; when placed together amidst the beauty of London they are ... still awkward. But the companionship they find in one another makes sense.

You see, in the opinions of their friends and loved ones they are hopeless cases beyond the point of social salvation. Harvey goes to London for his daughter's wedding and proceeds to find out that she wants his ex-wife's new husband to walk her down the aisle instead of him. Then when he tries to drag his depressed carcass back to his job in New York he finds out he's fired. Kate's life isn't quite as dramatic; it's more of a mundane slip into spinster-hood that mirrors her nagging mother's lifestyle with each failed date. Their relationship, which begins with a rather forced encounter by Harvey at an airport bar, is two misplaced people simply being misplaced together. It's not a great love; it is a love of relief.

Great spans of silence or music fill the voids of the film, which is really too bad, because these characters have obviously saved up anecdotes and adorable life musings to share with someone special. No one can deny that seasoned actors like Hoffman and Thompson have the talent to carry a film, but they seem to be on two completely different wavelengths with their acting styles.

In theory this could add to the innate awkwardness of their characters, but in actuality it just draws them apart. Harvey is so eager for human interaction that he comes off as a creepy old man. Not even his aged charisma can smooth over the times when he follows Kate onto the train and then to her writing class and then he waits for her outside her writing class; if I was Kate a bright red flag would have popped up in my head somewhere between the "and" and "then." She is in every way a sensible woman, but her little eccentricities have not had the opportunity to truly test themselves out on the opposite sex. So while Harvey is boyish and bouncing in the first throes of attention, Kate vacillates between reserve and random spurts of English rambling. However, the film just moves on, and hopes for the best.

It clings to little romantic cliches like when Harvey buys Kate a dress for his daughter's wedding reception. We get to see the traditional "trying on" of every ridiculous frock in the shop (though I doubt most of those things actually exist in one shop ... but no matter!). Also, the film seems to realize toward the end that some kind of a climax needs to occur in the plot so a situation reminiscent of An Affair to Remember is scraped up. The fact that the viewer can recognize this makes it lackluster and not even half as romantic as the original.

Despite this, it's the plain relief of two characters finding one another, and successfully taking themselves out of the weary hands of their loved ones, that drives this film. Harvey's daughter is more than happy to hand over her father to Kate, and Kate is more than happy to get away from her mother.

Yes, it's very self-aware. The film's writer and director Joel Hopkins seems to know the importance of muddling through and creating a successful match -- if only for the sake of misplaced people on every continent.

review by
Molly Ebert

20 February 2010

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