Last Chance Harvey
Sometimes when you’re watching an average film, an easy 4 to 5 on the 10 point scale, a scene will take you by surprise, lift the whole movie to something you remember for a long time after, and makes you re-evaluate the movie as a whole. BLACK SNAKE MOAN was just average before the scene where Sam Jackson plays the title track for an entranced Christina Ricci. Even CONTACT, despite its length (and maybe even because of its length), was easily forgettable before Jodie Foster’s congressional testimony at the end. LAST CHANCE HARVEY could have easily fallen into the category of the banal if not for Dustin Hoffman delivering a toast at his daughter’s wedding that is both touching and awkward and heartbreaking. It’s reason enough to watch the film. But maybe the only reason.
And now, the rest of the story: Though the star power is certainly a draw as well, with Mr. Hoffman and Emma Thompson sharing three Oscars between them, a romantic film starring the two of them at their current ages is a refreshing change and adds depth to the film most 20-something romances don’t have. Their age and experience raises the stakes of their loneliness. That loneliness is presented to us in Emma Thompson’s Kate in a blind date at the beginning, where she feels out of her league almost immediately upon seeing her date. The awkwardness she displays the rest of the night makes you feel sorry for her. The same pity is felt towards Hoffman as Harvey, a father of the bride flying to London for his daughter’s wedding, who still loves his ex-wife, and who’s spent so much time separated from his daughter that upon arriving for the event he finds out she wants her stepfather to give her away. Hoffman and Thompson wear this sorrow well, at times attempting to hide it and other times letting it slip through. These moments make us care for Harvey and Kate, and enjoy the beginning of their relationship, a meet cute in the airport bar. Sadly, the director then takes over, and drastically misuses the actors and our feelings for them.
The rest of the movie is a lesser imitation of other romance films. As the two walk through London sharing thoughts and experiences, we’re reminded of BEFORE SUNRISE/SUNSET, but less care is given to their dialogue, and the day seems rushed. Kate then convinces Harvey to return to his daughter’s reception but Harvey insists she go as well, and they go through a montage of Kate trying on dresses that seems cut from FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL – I think they even reuse some of the dresses Andie McDowell tried on. This scene is out of place and a waste of their (and our) time. Finally there is also an aside concerning Kate’s dependent mother, played by Eileen Atkins, who calls Kate constantly. The despair Kate shows at each ringing of her phone is familiar because it’s the same despair we noticed in Laura Linney’s character receiving phone calls from her dependent brother in LOVE ACTUALLY (in which Emma Thompson also starred). The director takes all these elements and throws them into the movie almost as filler to get the movie to its 92 minutes.
If we could cut the fat, trim the unnecessary, we’d have a very engaging one-act short film, with 30 to 45 minutes of a great scene, great acting, and the beginning of a beautiful friendship. As it is, the movie mostly wastes our time, but we still need most of it, if for no other reason than to set up Hoffman’s wedding toast. But other than that, I’d suggest watching BEFORE SUNRISE/SUNSET, FOUR WEDDINGS, or LOVE ACTUALLY instead.