Film Review: Last Chance Harvey

A gentle, modern-day love story for those who believe it’s never too late to find romance. Good idea, but even such consummate pros as Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson can’t make it soar.

The plot of Last Chance Harvey is no better or worse than most other movies in the guy-meets-girl, guy-loses-girl genre. Also, the film has a nice, easy pace, a fascinating setting—in present-day London—and both Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson (he just over 70, she nearly 50) have retained their sex appeal, which renders this late-in-life romance plausible, if not entirely likely.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that these two consummate actors were willing to accept roles that merely recycle characters they’ve played so often before. Hoffman is once again the lovable loser whose pleading eyes and schlumpy demeanor belie a heart so full of passion it’s about to burst. And Thompson, once again, is the shy, occasionally funny and awkward spinster awaiting the love of a good man to magically transform her into a fulfilled and fully functioning woman.

Actually, Thompson adds some interesting twists to the stereotype. Her Kate has metaphorically kissed so many frogs, she’s totally had it with the Prince Charming bit—resigning herself to being single, continuing her career (as a census taker at London’s Heathrow Airport), enjoying her girlfriends and visiting her nag of a mother (Eileen Atkins). It’s fascinating to watch Thompson’s transformation into a new woman—to witness her mighty struggle to believe the love-besotted words she hears from the brash New Yorker, Harvey Shine (Hoffman), who successfully picks her up in an airport bar.

Harvey has come to London for his daughter’s wedding—an event that barely holds his interest while he’s making an effort, via cell-phone, to save his job back in New York. The way his life has been going lately, Harvey is hardly surprised when his daughter (Liane Balaban) tells him she’s asked her stepfather (the handsome, silver-haired James Brolin) to give her away. Harvey is so bummed out over the rejection of his fatherly prerogative, he decides to skip the wedding reception and head back to New York. He misses his flight, of course, which is how he winds up in that airport bar flirting with the unhappy spinster, Kate.

Last Chance Harvey takes place almost entirely in London and, in a way, the city plays cupid for Harvey and Kate as they get to know each other by talking and walking through its streets. After Harvey is fired (by cell-phone) from his job, he decides to go back to his daughter’s wedding reception and Kate goes with him. It is here that the schmaltzy stuff begins; some of it works, and some doesn’t. In the latter category: A plot device straight out of An Affair to Remember fails to inject any will-they-or-won’t-they? suspense toward the film’s end.

Based on the evidence here, Hoffman and Thompson really would make a terrific romantic team, no matter their “mature” years, if they could only be challenged to play against type. Like, maybe somebody should write a script casting Emma and Dustin as a somewhat over-the-hill Brit/Brooklyn couple devoted to slugging it out, Pat-and-Mike style.