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Not too Late for Love in Last Chance Harvey

  • Annabelle Robertson Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
  • 2009 5 May
  • COMMENTS
Not too Late for Love in <i>Last Chance Harvey</i>

DVD Release Date:  May 5, 2009
Theatrical Release Date:  December 25, 2008
Rating:  PG-13 (for brief strong language)
Genre:  Drama
Run Time:  93 min.
Director:  Joel Hopkins
Actors:  Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, Kathy Baker, James Brolin, Liane Balabon, Eileen Atkins

Hollywood is starting to get it.  They’ve finally figured out that grownups like to watch movies about other grownups.  We’re not all teenagers or twenty-somethings who fall in love in the way that we once did, so many years ago (if you can call that love, of course).  They’ve also realized that these same adults appreciate films with adults who actually act like real adults.  And Last Chance Harvey is just such a film.  Can I get an “Amen”?

Harvey Shine (Dustin Hoffman) is going through a very rough time.  A lonely man to begin with, he writes jingles for films and commercials, but no one is buying.  After flying to London for his daughter’s wedding, Harvey learns that he has lost his top client and is now, essentially, out of work.  He finds himself in a London hotel, completely alone.  It turns out that Harvey’s ex-wife (Kathy Baker) and her second husband (James Brolin) have rented a country home for everyone in the bridal party—everyone except him, that is. 

It’s a predicament that Harvey has found himself in, over and over again, ever since his ex-wife remarried.  He never really fit in.  As a result, he slowly drifted away from his daughter, allowing her new husband to take his place (Liane Balabon).  Now Harvey’s feeling the pain, which is hammered home when his daughter informs him that her stepfather will be walking her down the aisle.

Kate Walker (Emma Thompson) has problems of her own.  First and foremost is Kate’s mother (Eileen Atkins), who is convinced that her Polish neighbor is burying bodies in the shed outside their flat.  She who won’t stop calling her daughter to report the latest—all day, every day.  As Kate’s friends say, her mother is all the contraceptive a girl will ever need.  Not that that’s an issue for Kate, a spinster who is so painfully shy that she can’t even enjoy the rare blind date that her friends arrange.  When she isn’t taking surveys at the airport for her job, Kate sits on the edges of conversations and parties like an unobtrusive wallflower.

When Kate first meets Harvey over dinner at the airport, she does what she usually does.  She ignores him, and keeps reading her book.  But Harvey pushes through her defenses and gets Kate to take a walk around town.  The walk turns into a day-long date, and eventually into a date with Harvey to his daughter’s reception.  But will fate intervene yet again and ruin this couple’s chances for love?  It has, almost every time before.  Or rather, will they allow their newfound relationship to change and heal them, for better or for worse?

Aside from a short 2001 film, this is writer/director Joel Hopkins’ screenwriting and directorial debut, and it’s clear that Hopkins is an up-and-coming talent who has been just waiting for his chance to make movies.  He infuses this film with a gentle urgency that portrays love in a realistic, very credible way.  It will leave viewers—especially older ones—smiling in recognition.

The film’s direction is surpassed only by the performances, which not only carry the film but which truly make it what it is—a movie worth watching.  Thanks to Hoffman’s character, who is of the brink of alcoholism, the first 30 minutes are almost painful, however.  We feel for Harvey, but we want him to just snap out of it.  He does, finally, when he connects with Kate.  He not only takes the lead with her, but also finds himself standing up to his ex-wife and her husband, which means that he is also able to finally embrace his father role as well.

As Kate, Thompson (like Hoffman) is outstanding.  As with him, it’s also a subdued performance which is wholly necessary for the film to work.  And, it does work.  Just as we do with Harvey, we like Kate, but we find ourselves nevertheless nudging her along.  Thompson’s best scene is when she finally breaks down, and we see what it is that holds us all back from loving:  fear of getting hurt.

Baker is appropriately icy, without ever falling into cliché, yet she manages to chill just enough to keep it real.  Brolin’s character is detached but strong.  And Atkins provides perfect comic relief throughout the film, which insists that it’s never, ever too late to love.  It also shows us that so often, love arrives at unexpected times and in very surprising ways.  Violins may not play, and passion may be more subtle than what we’ve been taught to recognize.  But if we don’t slow down—worse, if we back away—we just might miss it.

Last Chance Harvey is the sort of film that almost every adult (but very few teens) will enjoy.  It’s for those who believe—even just a little bit—in second chances.  Like a fine wine, appreciation may take a few minutes.  But once on the palate, it leaves a lovely aftertaste indeed.

DVD EXTRAS:

  • Widescreen presentation of feature film
  • “An Unconventional Love Story:”  The Making of Last Chance Harvey
  • Audio Commentary with writer/director Joel Hopkins, Academy Award winners Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson
  • Theatrical Trailer

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Characters consume alcohol in various scenes throughout film, usually in social context. One main character appears to have an alcohol problem, which is never directly addressed in film but alluded to. The end of the film assumes that this is no longer an issue.
  • Language/Profanity:  A couple of very brief obscenities/profanities.
  • Sexual Content/Nudity:   Mild to none.  Film centers around a wedding.
  • Violence:  Mild to none.