Last Chance Harvey
directed and written by Joel Hopkins
starring Dustin Hoffman & Emma Thompson
I’m not 45. Not even close, in fact. Marketing campaigns have made it clear that such an age is the key ingredient — along with the obligatory vagina, of course — needed to enjoy Last Chance Harvey, a quiet romance about the middle-aged and unassuming discovering that there’s always one more shot at love… and life.
Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson offer beautifully simple performances as Harvey Shine and Kate Walker. He, the self-proclaimed “vulgar American” and unenthusiastic jingle writer who once dreamed of jazz pianist fame, needs to make amends with his estranged daughter on the eve of her London wedding. She, the quintessential emotionally reserved Brit, perfunctorily collects surveys from airline passengers for a living and dreads her infrequent — and frequently bad — blind dates. Clearly it’s kismet that the two meet, spend a single blissful day together, and… live happily ever after? Are the middle-aged even allowed to do that?
That’s the entire premise of writer-director Joel Hopkins’ cliché-riddled film. The weird thing is, it actually works. Let’s not kid ourselves: it’s more than difficult to make an entirely original movie these days, particularly within the overstuffed realm of the romantic comedy. Perhaps because of this, Hopkins can’t help but steal from some of our most beloved weepies: his entire cinematic concept echoes of a Before Sunset in the twilight years of life, but there’s also Harvey serenading Kate with his sultry piano skills in an vacant hotel ballroom (à la Pretty Woman) and the fact that any potential romance for Kate ends before it begins thanks to a loved one’s incessant phone calls and constant clinginess (Love, Actually). I can’t even begin to name all one hundred-plus rom-coms that utilize the estranged relative device, but they’re there, in abundance, workin’ hard for the tears and sympathy (here, a little Meet the Fockers painful awkwardness is thrown in for good measure when the families meet again). There isn’t one person who can’t relate to daddy/mommy issues, and the traditional romantic comedy usually exploits this to comic effect, but here it does so subtly and with real heart.
Harvey has one thing going for it that almost no other love-centric flick does: real, honest-to-goodness age. And I’m not talking about the wisdom that comes with it, either. I mean the actual years — and the frown lines to prove it. I was skeptical of the marketing ploys, but the producers were right all along: Dustin and Emma, in their 50+ years, present an intriguing picture to young’uns like me who are unsure of their ability to relate to such, shall we say, seasoned characters. But these actors working within the same tired frame of romantic leads half their ages is exactly what’s so illuminating. To see Thompson as Kate, dreamily gazing out of a bus window and nearly bursting out of her skin for the pure giddiness of meeting someone she is utterly surprised to so fancy, and then moments later, to see that unadulterated happiness break down into the depths of disappointment and heartache when the older object of her affection fails to show for the fairytale-like meeting… It’s not until then that the realization hits that the one thing that does not change with age is the dizzy anticipation of meeting a new love and the tragic loneliness of rejection. Absurdly obvious as this is, Hopkins’ film portrays this last chance at love with such tenderness and honesty that is not until Kate tearfully inquires how their cross-the-pond romance could work and Harvey, with a quiet confidence responds, “I don’t know. But it will,” that the difference between 20-something and 50-something romances is fully realized: silver-haired Harvey isn’t going to let the wonderfully feisty Kate slip away because he’s finally able to recognize that she is the chance he was waiting for all along. And that’s refreshing.
Last Chance Harvey: www.lastchanceharvey.com