Thursday, January 15, 2009

Last Chance Harvey (Review)

(A variation of this review appears in print and online at Las Vegas City Life)

Last Chance Harvey
Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson
Directed by Joel Hopkins

Dating life, circa now, is all about making things easy on oneself, or so I'm told by those still in the game. Leading strategies: a)make a love - or lust - connection with a friend at work or school; b)pursue a hook-up while under the influence at a bar or party; c)get busy on a social-networking site; d)use an online dating service.

Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson, as middle-aged lonely hearts in the certifiably sentimental if not insufferable romantic comedy Last Chance Harvey, opt for another route to romance, one that's old-fashioned and more complicated than all that.

Struggling New York jingle composer Harvey Shine and world-weary airport survey taker Kate, a Brit, are strangers who meet cute, sort of, at a London airport. They spend the rest of the movie figuring out how and why they like each other so much, and what they ought to do about it. And they overcome a series of obstacles not so cleverly placed in their path by writer-director Joel Hopkins, last heard from with Jump Tomorrow, a promising 2001 indie about another chance meeting.

How do we know that our protagonists are losers in life?

There's that name (as in, he'll never "shine") and the hangdog manner in which Harvey, a frustrated jazz pianist, carries himself. Then there's the apparent loss of his job to a younger composer, and the reason for his UK visit -- he's attending the wedding of his daughter (Liane Balaban), who's opted to be given away by her stepfather (James Brolin).

As for Kate, she's burdened with a needy, eccentric mother (Eileen Atkins) and a conviction that there's no point, really, in hoping for a romance that won't implode.

Yes, the story and direction are predictable. But give these likable screen veterans credit for injecting enough wit and, in Thompson's case, sparkle into the script to make their relationship believable, and even a little sweet.

Later-in-life love? In Last Chance Harvey, hope floats.

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