Last Chance Harvey
United States/United Kingdom, 2008
U.S. Release Date:
Theatrical Aspect Ratio:
Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, Kathy Baker, James Brolin, Eileen Atkins, Liane Balaban
John de Borman
Last Chance Harvey is a standard-order romantic comedy with a couple of unusual ingredients that make it worthy of notice. It is common, of course, for movies of this genre to focus on young, photogenic individuals. While not unheard of, romantic comedies featuring post-menopause women and AARP-eligible men are a rarity. In addition, when the principals of such a movie are both multiple Oscar winners, one can hardly ignore such a production, no matter how formulaic the premise and execution might be. Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson bring credibility to Last Chance Harvey merely by their presence. The result is a holiday parfait.
Harvey Shine (Hoffman) is a TV commercial jingle writer who is fired by cell phone while he's in London for the wedding of his daughter, Susan (Liane Balaban). Things go from bad to worse for Harvey - not only is he jobless, but Susan informs him that she would prefer to be given away at the altar by her step-father, Brian (James Brolin). Harvey takes this as well as can be expected, which is to say, not well at all. Then, to further exacerbate an already awful situation, he runs into traffic on the way from the wedding to Heathrow and misses his flight. He's in an airport bar drowning his sorrows when he meets Kate (Emma Thompson), who's not experiencing the best of times either. Her mother (Eileen Atkins) believes the new neighbor is a serial killer and Kate's blind date the night before did not go well. When Harvey tries to make small talk, she is initially unreceptive, but his persistence pays off and they are soon spending the day together wandering around the city. He accompanies her to her drama class and she agrees to be his date for the wedding reception.
By echoing the motif that made Before Sunrise so popular among a segment of romantic comedy fandom - the concept of having two people fall in love as they tour a city - Last Chance Harvey provides viewers with ample opportunity to see Harvey and Kate interact. This in turn gives Hoffman and Thompson a chance to revive and enhance the on-screen chemistry they displayed in their few shared scenes in Stranger than Fiction. It's a pleasure to see them interact and to hear the way they utter some of the wry one-liners provided by writer/director Joel Hopkins' occasionally witty screenplay.
There are two primary subplots populating the sidelines in Last Chance Harvey. The first involves Harvey's attempts to show his true feelings to a daughter to whom he was not, by his own admission, a good father. There's some emotional resonance to this element of the movie and, while it doesn't stray into the realm of heavy drama, it has more heft than one might expect from this sort of frothy motion picture. Kate's secondary story, which focuses on her mother's unwillingness to sever the late-life umbilical cord, isn't as interesting. Apparently recognizing this, Hopkins plays it primarily for comedy, thereby wasting the not inconsiderable talents of Eileen Atkins.
Although the idea of Hoffman at a wedding might immediately call to mind The Graduate, Last Chance Harvey has no tangible links to the Mike Nichols classic. Emma Thompson's character, on the other hand, calls to mind her portrayal in The Tall Guy (they even have the same first name). Any baggage brought on board by either actor does nothing to detract from the essential elements of the film. Hopkins understands the conventions of the romantic comedy and lets the storyline play out in a largely predictable manner. This is a film of small pleasures that come through dialogue and character interaction, but there are few (if any) surprises. It's a romantic comedy for an older generation, arguing that the fantasy of falling in love isn't just for the young, no matter how much Hollywood seems to believe differently.