What drew Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson to this Lifetime-level script is beyond comprehension, but one must wonder if the gender focus had been switched would we be watching this well-acted romantic piffle on the large screen or small?
Harvey Shine (Hoffman) is a commercial jingle writer whose career is on the outs. Flying to London to attend his estranged daughter's wedding he struggles awkwardly to connect with old friends and family but mostly ensures his status as the familial outsider. Not satisfied to let Hoffman convey his character's unease, writer-director Joel Hopkins punctuates these scenes with poorly conceived shtick involving hotel curtains, clothing security tags and a bed of stones at the rehearsal dinner restaurant. Enter Kate (Thompson), a single, middle-aged airline employee whose mum calls her 50 times a day and who believes her Polish next door neighbor's a serial killer. Though the film has been cutting away to poor Kate's loveless life, it's 30 minutes before she runs into Harvey at an airport bar (he ditched his daughter's reception). The two strike up an acid-tinged conversation that suggests Hopkin's film might have some middle-aged bite yet. Unfortunately, it quickly devolves into a sentimental merging of minds (and hearts).
You'd think with its long strolls through London and confessional badinage that this baby-boomer rom-com might attempt to channel Richard Linklater's brilliant Before Sunrise. No such luck. Last Chance Harvey's stars may be more mature but their conversations too often cross into the maudlin and sophomoric. Hopkins actually forces Thompson to go through one of those idiotic trying-on-dresses montages that should've been banned from tween romances a decade ago. It's tantamount to senior abuse. Not that Thompson is a senior. Pushing 50, she's still more than 20 years Hoffman's junior, a fact never acknowledged in the film. Watching her gracefully deflect his creepily assertive come-ons is one of the film's few delights.
While it's nice to see Hollywood acknowledge that falling in love isn't just for women who look like Kate Hudson and guys who look like Patrick Dempsey, Last Chance Harvey tends to have that condescending "aren't older people adorable" vibe running through it. Two aging loners bonding over their broken dreams has lots of potential, but when you compare it to Linklater's films or the recent Rachel Getting Married, it's clear that how much Hopkins avoids anything approximating real joy or pain.
The attraction here is watching two pros navigate the movie's clunky and familiar script to find moments of real honesty and engagement. Hoffman's early scenes of alienation are surprisingly effective, paying off with a wedding toast that earns a small but predictable lump in your throat. His romantic courting, however, feels actorly and theatrically insistent. Thompson, on the other hand, adds depth and soul to her barely written character, making you care about Kate; it gives her an interior life that resonates beyond the hackneyed dialogue. In particular, her last-act expressions of wounded disappointment offer us a glimpse of what Last Chance Harvey might've been — a mature expression of romantic doubt.
Jeff Meyers writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.