Last Chance Harvey Directed by: Joel Hopkins Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, Kathy Baker, Liane Balaban Running Time: 1 hr, 32 minutes Rating: PG-13
Plot: The story of what happens to a man whose twilight years have come upon him too quickly for him to amend the wrongs he’s done his family. It also involves how the budding of new love can mend the broken bridges of love since fallen flat.
Who’s It For?: If you liked About Schmidt, but felt too displaced by Nicholson’s age rather than his aging disposition, you’ll prefer the way Hopkins handles the juxtaposition of love and the inevitable loneliness of elderly life.
Expectations: Jack Nicholson has made a steady (if not astoundingly impressive) career out of portraying a man whose playboy years are far behind him. Hoffman’s childish grace has seemed to transcend his aging process, but not even the youngest at heart must succumb to the ailment of old age. Though the film lacks to punch of groundbreaking material, get excited to see desperation for waning youth in Hoffman’s eyes as he eagerly seeks out the companionship of a younger woman.
Dustin Hoffman as Harvey Shine: This is an actor whose career now earns him roles rather than his ability to deliver a line. That being said, Dustin Hoffman still conveys a relatable charisma to the big screen not seen in taller, better-looking leading men. That is not a slight to his physique, or height, we all know what we like; it’s merely a reminder that the cards have been against the mighty-mite of a thespian since he burst onto the scene playing lusty tug-of-war with a much older woman. In Last Chance Harvey, the tables have turned, but not entirely. Hoffman has an uncanny capacity to evoke empathy from his audience, even though they’re given little else to reinforce their collective emotive response. Though the script runs dry several times throughout, Harvey Shine is very much brought to life with a carefree abandon only the 70-year-old actor could provide. Score: 8
Emma Thompson as Kate Walker: What makes the premise of this film so believable is Thompson’s taut performance as an everywoman trudging through the doldrums of looming middle-age without much ambition to alter the pace of life. This makes her a likeable match for Hoffman’s disheveled fraction of a man (Shine). Kate Walker is just as quick to bury her brewing angst regarding the opposite sex, and anything else that could stimulate a natural moment of temporary elation. She’s lost, and Thompson ably reveals the rampant inner-struggle someone of that disposition goes through when they find another person who’s equally jaded. Her height-advantage on Harvey Shine aside, his fight to get her to see things eye-to-eye is a well documented take on how love can find you even when you absolutely don’t want it to. Score: 7
Kathy Baker as Jean [Harvey Shine’s Ex-Wife]: Baker is very good at playing an aging southern belle whose practicality still outweighs the romantic-side she’s long let run dormant. The way she looks at Harvey in his moments of need are subtle cinematic examinations into the horrendous struggle marriage can be, and the nagging toll it can have on each party, even years after they’ve separated. The stubborn-will of a woman whose second marriage has brought her all the happiness promised to her in her first is an agonizing reminder of how fickle hearts can be, and how bad timing can dominate the allure of true love. Baker isn’t onscreen much, but the temperament she displays when she is smacks the old-romantic line of thinking out of our subconscious so quickly we forget Last Chance Harvey is a romantic drama. Score: 7
Liane Balaban as Susan: She’s never been in anything you’ve seen (okay, Definitely, Maybe, but that doesn’t count), and she plays in the Montreal synth punk power-trio We Are Molecules, and I know you’ve never heard of them. Regardless, she’s got a darling sense of screen presence. Remember how Kate Hudson grabbed our hearts when she first twirled onto the scene in ? Balaban does the same with different tactics. Her ability to convert a young woman’s despair over watching her narcissistic father abandon her (again) into an inspired hopefulness by films’ end is touching. All the great A-list actresses needed to take small steps before they could leap. This may be Balaban’s final step. Score: 8
Talking: Trite. The one-liners are as recycled as paper in the 1990’s. Director Joel Hopkins is sure lucky his actors were up to performing so well. The script runs desert-dry, ignoring all incentive to keep its audience from rolling its eyes when Hoffman finally grabs the attention of the evasive Thompson, only to deliver a line as old as he is. Though some may feel this is a cute take on an old man’s twiddling heart, I saw it as a writer whose ambition to provide us with something new, and worth remembering has all but dissipated. Score: 4
Sights Takes place in Europe. This is a plus. The winding streets of the old country are far more attractive to the eye than the boxy, cluttered cities of America. Still, it’s been done before. Many times. Score: 6
Sounds: Composer Dickon Hinchliffe propels the story along with a nice, quaint (okay, still boring) soundtrack that reminds you to stay interested far more than the flaccid script could ever hope to. Score: 6
Best Scene: When Harvey stands to trump Brian’s (James Brolin; Susan’s step-father) standing as “Father of the Bride,” you get chills. The silence Hoffman exudes before he speaks to steady his will grabs at the heartstrings effectively, and the look Thompson gives him as he stumbled genuinely along is very effective.
Ending: Hollywood. Expectedly pedestrian, and… Hollywood.
Questions: How do you round up such a stellar roster of actors with such a thinly written script? The story is compelling enough, but none of the dialogue capably asserts this point. Ugh.
Rewatchability: Remember how you couldn’t wait to watch Notting Hill again when it came out on DVD? Yeah, you won’t feel the same here.
A gifted assortment of actors hold Last Chance Harvey on their talented shoulders for as long as they can, but I spent the entire duration wishing I were home watching Pretty Woman, When Harry Met Sally, or even Forget Paris. Unlikely love stories are tough to pull off, especially when you’re dealing with elder contestants. This film is never able to present an authentically told story. As a result, the fire never burns bright enough to warm our hearts. Despite an unexpected twist regarding Harvey’s medical history towards the end, the film is never derailed from its bland presentation of formulaic predictability.
Final Score: 6/10