Monday, June 08, 2009

Monday Movie Review: Last Chance Harvey

Last Chance Harvey (2008) 5/10
Sad, awkward Harvey Shine (Dustin Hoffman) travels to London for his daughter's wedding. He meets lonely, nervous Kate Walker (Emma Thompson) and they strike up a tentative romance.

I had high hopes for this one. Quirky independent romances appeal to me. It had some awards buzz. It has a good cast and I'm drawn to the idea of showing romance between people who aren't 22 and perfect. Alas.

I am often struck by the observer effect as it relates to movie reviews. We do like to pretend that reviews can be objective, that there is a "good movie" and a "bad movie" on some absolute scale of Movieness that exists in some corner of the universe. Yet a review is written by a person who was in a mood of some sort during the time of viewing. That reviewer has life experience brought to the film (Ebert, for instance, hated Marilyn Hotchkiss because he hated ballroom dance lessons and could not imagine wanting to return there). In addition, there are the vagaries of viewing circumstances.

For the current movie, I confess that Arthur and I had a big fight over whether or not we would watch it, and I insisted, because DAMMIT I just wanted to return it to Netflix already. And within ten minutes he'd walked out of the room to leave me to watch it alone. So maybe I would have liked Last Chance Harvey better under better conditions—who can say?

Old movies often rely on a man meeting a woman and then, let's face it, stalking her. This is why a movie like The Gay Divorcee can be uncomfortable to watch nowadays. Newer movies don't cotton so much to stalking and so rely on Meet Cute. But Last Chance Harvey is more in the stalker mold. Harvey is small and mild and not scary, and checks in often with Kate to make sure he hasn't pushed too far, yet push he does, and it doesn't feel good to me.

The delicate, tentative connection that Kate and Harvey have is nice, but it doesn't seem like all that much, and certainly not enough to inspire the kind of transformation we know these characters need, and we know (being an audience who has seen romances before) the film will deliver.

There is a profoundly moving moment at Harvey's daughter's wedding. I totally had to pause the film and wash the runny makeup off my face. But what led us there? It seems the simple act of having anyone to talk to allowed Harvey to step out of his shell and speak truthfully to his daughter. But he seems, I dunno, friendly. Surely he talks to other people?

Dustin Hoffman is good but not wonderful. Emma Thompson, on the other hand, is glorious. She is rich with feeling and really grounded; present in her body in a way that is always full and real and engaging.

Still, the romance is slight and not all that much to build a movie around. I mean, really?

Parenthetically, it is an odd comment on movie assumptions that Emma Thompson, 50, feels like an appropriate age mate for Dustin Hoffman, 72. They do briefly mention that he's kind of old, but I suppose it's so refreshing that she is less than 30 years younger than him, unlike, say, Harrison Ford's leading ladies. Whatever.

(Last Chance Cross-post)