Last Chance Harvey

Last Chance Harvey


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

A festival favourite for some months now, this film arrives in British cinemas amidst considerable hype, which is unfortunate, because its failure to live up to that may result in viewers failing to notice just how good it really is. It's a quiet, gentle, easy-going sort of film that doesn't bear up well under pressure and won't compete well with the usual Saturday night fodder, but if you're looking for something to while away a weekday evening or waste a carefree afternoon, you're in for a treat.

Dustin Hoffman, battered and beleaguered but still sparkly-eyed, is Harvey, an American writer of advertising jingles who is travelling to London to see his daughter (Liane Balaban) getting married. Although he long ago divorced her mother and admits he wasn't a very good father, this is a moment he has always dreamed of. But when he arrives, nothing is the way he had hoped. Little things keep going wrong, followed by bigger things. His job is under threat. He doubts he'll be able to stay for the reception. He simply doesn't know how to communicate his love for his daughter. She seems far more at ease with her taller, better looking, effortlessly genial stepfather. As for his ex-wife... "You still know how to make me feel like shit in 30 seconds," he tells her. "You gave me a lot of practice," she responds.

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Emma Thompson, tired and careworn and dressed down, is Kate, a fiftysomething woman who works hard at her job in the airport, looks after her delicately paranoid mother, attends a creative writing course and dreams of better things. When a blind date with a younger man goes awry and leaves her feeling more isolated than ever, she takes solace in an airport bar with a romantic novel and a glass of chardonnay. Unbeknown to her, it is actually the third time her path has crossed Harvey's, but it's the first time they speak to each other. Unexpectedly, a conversation that begins with traded insults develops into something that takes them both by surprise.

The first part of the film, in which we explore the lives of these two lonely people and observe the irony of them inadvertently missing each other, is by far the strongest, woven through with gentle comedy and real pathos. Later, as their accidental friendship develops into a possible relationship, the film becomes more awkward, struggling to keep its balance between realism and the sense that they have chanced upon something really special.

It veers too easily into cliched territory, yet it's still refreshing to see a romantic comedy/drama that isn't about twentysomethings, and that features such complex characters (even if Thompson's performance is strongly reminiscent of another Kate, the one she played years ago in The Tall Guy). Unlike their younger, glamorous counterparts, these are people who really have something to lose, people who may well be looking at their last chance of happiness. Will they take it? Watch and find out.

Reviewed on: 20 May 2009
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An awkward American visiting London for his daughter's wedding falls head over heels for a younger woman.
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Director: Joel Hopkins

Writer: Joel Hopkins

Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, Eileen Atkins, Kathy Baker, Liane Balaban, James Brolin, Richard Schiff

Year: 2008

Runtime: 92 minutes

Country: UK, US


Glasgow 2009

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