Dir: Joel Hopkins. UK/US. 2008. 99 mins.
A star vehicle fashioned around the chemistry between Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson, Last Chance Harvey is a gentle story of late bloomers falling in love over a summer weekend in London. While it has it charms, mainly in the actor pairing, it is otherwise unremarkable and easily forgotten - such an old-fashioned picture it could have been made in the 70s, with George Segal and Glenda Jackson starring. Last Chance Harvey will find a following among older female audiences drawn by the romance and the stars, but it will build a more devoted fanbase once it reaches the small screen.
The pleasure here is seeing Hoffman and Thompson, neither of whom are at the age to guarantee leading role status any more, sink their teeth into big parts as damaged people and prove once more that they can deliver the razzle-dazzle. The two have a nice rapport together and each exudes the palpable screen presence that has won them Oscars and made them famous - if not as golden at the box office as they used to be.
The film could at best perform along the lines of other adult romances such as Random Hearts or One Fine Day but won’t break into the wider audiences which made smarter fare like Something’s Gotta Give or As Good As It Gets so successful.
Hoffman plays a single New Yorker called Harvey Shine, a would-be jazz pianist caught up in a dead-end job as a jingle writer, who sets off for London to attend his daughter’s wedding. Thompson is a forty-something survey-taker at Heathrow Airport called Kate Walker who lives to serve her mother and aches with the desperation of being on the shelf.
On arrival at Heathrow, Harvey briefly brushes off Kate - the couple don’t meet again for another 45 minutes - before setting off into central London where he finds that he has been excluded from the wedding party and that his daughter Susan (Balaban) has decided to ask her stepfather (Brolin) to give her away. Miserable and anxious to get back to New York for work, he sets off for Heathrow as soon as the ceremony is over on Saturday afternoon.
But Harvey misses his flight and even worse is fired over the phone while at the gate. While drowning his sorrows at the bar of an airport restaurant, he recognizes Kate sitting alone reading a book with a glass of wine and engages her in conversation. The two begin a whirlwind romance which will see Kate escorting Harvey to the wedding reception and both of them confronting the emptiness of their lives.
While Last Chance Harvey isn’t full-fledged romantic fantasy like Love Actually or The Holiday, neither is it the most authentic portrait of human longing. The fact that Harvey is so callously slighted by his daughter is somewhat improbable as is Kate’s poorly-sketched relationship with her overbearing mother (Atkins), who herself is engaged in a silly sideplot about a possibly murderous Polish neighbour. But writer/director Joel Hopkins is smart enough to focus entirely on the two lead actors and there is enough veracity in their seasoned faces to keep the drama comfortably on track.
Paramount Vantage International
+1 323 956 2000
John De Borman