Critical Confabulations

a theatre, film & pop culture review

Harvey Gets His Chance

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 middleaged 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 dreamt 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 middleaged even allowed to do that?

That’s the entire premise of writer-director Joel Hopkins’s cliché-riddled film.  The weird thing is, it actually works.  Let’s not kid ourselves: it’s more than difficult to make an utterly original movie these days, particularly within the overstuffed realm of the romantic comedy.  And Hopkins steals from some of our most beloved weepies: his entire cinematic concept echoes a Before Sunset in in the twilight years of life, but there’s also the scene in which Harvey serenades Kate with his sultry piano skills in an vacant hotel ballroom (a 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).  And 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). There isn’t one person who can’t relate to daddy/mommy issues, and the traditional rom-com knows this and exploits it to usually comic effect, but here it does so subtly and surprisingly effectively.

But 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 – with the frown lines to prove it. Dustin and Emma, in their 50+ years, present an intriguing picture to those like me, in their 20s, unsure of their ability to relate to such, shall we say, seasoned characters.  But working within the same tired frame of romantic leads half their ages is exactly what’s so alluring.  To see Thompson as Kate, dreamily gazing out 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 tenderly, and with a quiet confidence responds, “I don’t know. But it will,” that I understand the difference between 20-something and 50-something romances: 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.

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One comment on “Harvey Gets His Chance

  1. Melissa
    June 1, 2009

    OK, so I watched this movie tonight and remembered that you had reviewed it. I believe I need to comment!

    I had been looking forward to seeing this movie. I enjoyed the premise: love in middle age. However, I have to say that this was one of the worst romantic comedies I have seen in a long time. (Granted, I don’t usually make a habit out of seeing them.) The plot was ridiculously contrived, and completely devoid of any real character development or meaningful dialogue. While they made an attempt at turning it into another “Before Sunrise”, they had no dialogue to propel the development of the relationship. Instead, whiny background music was played during montages, and we were expected to believe their relationship was developing on that basis. I have much more to say about this movie, but I think it’s taken up enough of my time as it is.

    It’s rare that I disagree with you about movies. But between this and Wall-E, we have two!

    Like

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This entry was posted on January 15, 2009 by in Film Reviews, Reviews and tagged , , .

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