Film Review: Last LoveConventional drama about an ex-pat retired American professor mourning his beloved wife’s passing benefits from always watchable star Michael Caine. But widespread web availability and familiar treatment of material (right down to the tinkly Hans
This German-Belgian co-production set in Paris, directed by the German-born Sandra Nettelbeck and shot on location in Paris, Brittany, Belgium and Germany with French, American and British talent, is not the messy Euro-pudding one would fear. Instead, Last Love is a more easily digested, mild Euro-consommé that simmers with grief, family tensions, romance and reconciliation.
Nettelbeck came to prominence stateside with the wonderful German-Italian culinary romantic comedy Mostly Martha, subsequently remade by Warner Bros. (with Castle Rock and Village Roadshow) as No Reservations. While Last Love offers opportunities for edge and surprise, she again hits a safe middle ground that reflects a strong urge to please.
The story follows Matthew Morgan (Michael Caine), a former Princeton philosophy professor who mopes in his gorgeous Left Bank apartment (its spacious
Parisian grandeur evoking the one so memorably featured in Oscar winner Amour) or the nearby park where he and his late wife Joan (Jane Alexander) often relaxed. Joan comes alive intermittently in occasional flashbacks.
On a bus home, Matthew meets Pauline (Clémence Poésy), a twenty-something dance instructor (cha-chas and tangos are her specialties) who seems curiously over-interested in befriending the old man. And, of course, she does as the two begin spending (non-romantic) time together, including the ex-prof’s visits to her dance studio and their sharing occasional meals out. As Pauline grows clingy and Matthew all too willing, it becomes clear that Last Love is also the story of two lost souls suffering from family deficit.
Pauline has no parents and Matthew has a poor relationship with his offspring who live in the States. Son Miles (Justin Kirk) has always resented his father’s neglect, as the latter’s profound attachment to mother Joan absorbed all his attention. Matthew’s obnoxiously bossy and spoiled daughter Karen (Gillian Anderson) doesn’t have as much time for resentment; she’s too busy with herself and shopping.
It’s Matthew’s attempted suicide and hospitalization that bring his kids to Paris, where rounds of minor revelations emerge and take the plot down not-unfamiliar roads.
Miles’ wife has left him and both siblings refuse to let their father sell the beloved house in St. Malo that their mother owned. For Miles, there’s additional tension regarding what his father’s relationship with Pauline is all about.
Fortunately, Caine is on view to liven things up a bit, even as he plays a saturnine soul unable to shake his grief or warm up to his children. But he doesn’t fully get his arms around his ex-professor character and floats in and out of his American accent, sometimes detouring into a slight Southern drawl.
Some fault lies with the script, which fashions dialogue not jelling with that of a retired Princeton prof. Lacking Ivy resonance, he’s devoid of intellectual or philosophy speak or thought and the attendant cultural interests of art, music, reading, whatever. Caine’s titan of higher learning has lived many comfortable years in Paris and the provinces, but his not giving a damn about learning or even pronouncing French is absurd. (“Merci” first crosses his lips as “mercy.”)
The film (also known as Mr. Morgan’s Last Love) has been all over the web (often for free) prior to its theatrical release, a fact which spurs the question of how, a month later, the film might find life on the big screen. Two words come to mind: Michael Caine. Also, the film’s themes (also including aging, loss, coping, etc.) square nicely with older, sophisticated viewers who prefer their screens big and have the time and money to indulge their traditional moviegoing habit. And let’s not forget it’s the season pushing awards, and two-time Oscar-winner Caine knows them well.
But the theatre run aside, a quick look at a website like viooz.co/movies, one of many outlets for Last Love and free movies, will send to those in exhibition a message more poignant than any in the film itself.