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When actors overshadow
on 18 March 2010
Boy meets girl. Boy woos girl. Girl and boy have misunderstanding, but iron it out.
Well, imagine that scenario for the fiftysomething set. "Last Chance Harvey" is one of those thoroughly mediocre little movies that only manages to make itself memorable because it happens to star great actors. Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson manage to turn this middle-of-the-road romantic comedy into something worth watching on a lazy summer afternoon, as long as you don't expect much plot.
The titular character (Hoffman, natch) is a down-on-his-luck musician/jingle-writer who visits England for his daughter's wedding, but fate seems determined to make him miserable -- women ignore him, his daughter has dropped him in favor of her stepfather, and he's humiliated at the rehearsal dinner. The only person who hasn't caused poor Harvey to drop further is pretty Kate Walker (Thompson), an interviewer whom Harvey brushes off at the airport.
Unsurprisingly, when they actually spend some time together, Kate and Harvey begin to click and Harvey starts openly pursuing this new woman who actually treats him like a human being. His self-confidence and charm begin to grow as Kate begins to reciprocate his feelings -- but when they hit a sudden snag in their first date, Harvey may have lost his last chance.
"Last Chance Harvey" is one of those plots that has been around for eons, especially in movies: lonely single people reluctantly find love with each other, despite a few "Love Affair" obstacles and misunderstandings, and turn their miserable pathetic lives around. It's neither a really good movie nor a bad one -- just sort of average, especially since the climactic obstacle turns out to be a really contrived, rather overwrought misunderstanding. Bleah.
But it does have a certain amount of charm, once Joel Hopkins has finished heaping every kind of indignity imaginable on Harvey without resorting to slapstick (seriously, give the guy a break!). There's a certain sweetness to seeing some perpetually disappointed people suddenly blossoming in utterly ordinary ways -- shopping, conversing, and getting awkwardly to know each other. And some of the gentle humor is amusing as well -- such as Kate's mother being convinced that her neighbor is a serial killer.
Honestly, this movie would be forgettable if it weren't for Hoffman and Thompson, both of whom are sublimely awkward, sweet and touching. Hoffman seems like a quietly enduring presence that is constantly beaten down by the world, but never gives in; and though it's not terribly convincing that someone who looks like Emma Thompson would be a lonely spinster, she is definitely Hoffman's match and (though no clear answers are given) obviously the person who belongs with him.
And thankfully there are no cheap ploys for audience sympathy, just a pair of strong presences that fill the entire movie. The supporting actors also do a good job -- nobody is demonized even if they do Harvey wrong -- but they're overshadowed by the two leads.
"Last Chance Harvey" is one of those "nice" little movies that are pleasant but unexceptional in any way, except for the lead actors. A good lazy afternoon movie, but not one that will stick in your mind.