A while back I wrote a serious review of Last Chance Harvey that may as well have been “Last Chance Gillian” because I sent it to this website (which will remain nameless) for a chance to write movie reviews for them, but I never got to. There was no money in it, so I’m only bitter that they didn’t even bother getting back to me. I never got around to posting the review here probably because I secretly hoped I would still hear from them. This was in January. Anyway, I’m not going to bother with the links as this backstory has already annoyed me enough. But here’s the review. It’s pretty fucking insightful and totally deserving of no money, I think:
The 2008 awards season is now in its death throes, being as it’s 2009, but it still seems prudent to make some generalizations about what seems to be the most compelling fodder for “good” films last year. One central theme that doesn’t seem to be getting old is the single, aging man, searching for something to bring meaning to his life as he starts to see his own mortality on the horizon. The most obvious instance this year, of course, is Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler, but the same elements weave themselves through Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York, David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and even arguably both of Kate Winslet’sshowcase pieces The Reader and Revolutionary Road. Though it has garnered fewer accolades than most of these films, Joel Hopkins’ Last Chance Harvey, which went into wide release January 16th, is deserving of a spot on this landscape.
Dustin Hoffman, an actor that is probably no longer concerned about his own legacy (though he may cringe a little at Mr. Magorium’sWonder Emporium), plays Harvey Shine, a failed jazz pianist and commercial jingle writer who travels to London for his daughter’s wedding. Struggling to find meaning in his work and out of place in the wedding party, things are bad enough when his daughter, Suzy (Liane Balaban), tells him that she wants her stepfather, the improbably tan and impossibly charming Brian (an improbably tan and perfectly charming James Brolin) to give her away. Harvey attends the wedding, smile pasted on, then dashes off to Heathrow to get back to New York in time for a meeting. Meanwhile, Emma Thompson as single and cynical but charming Kate Walker is caring for her neurotic mother, being set up on blind dates by her co-workers and dreaming of a career as a novelist. Naturally, they meet at the airport and despite Kate’s reluctance, the pair strike up the only kind of friendship that movies need: unlikely. Immediately, there is a palpable realism about their interactions. It isn’t the electric but ultimately fleeting sparks of a storybook romance. Instead it is an understanding, laced with skepticism. An instant trust underlined with pragmatism. In short, something akin to real life.
Hopkins, whose only credits are a short entitled Jorge and a lauded but little seen feature called Jump Tomorrow (which appears to be based on Jorge), ambitiously wrote Last Chance Harvey with Hoffman and Thompson in mind. The fact that they both agreed to be a part of the project speaks volumes about the strength of the script. Both Harvey and Kate are the kind of sympathetic and well-developed characters that any actor surely longs to play. Hopkins’ choices as a director are simple and effective. As the pair stroll the streets of London, he lets the scenery and his impeccable actors tell his poignant story without interference. Hoffman especially makes easy work of defining himself as Harvey. It takes only a few words and movements to establish the complex relationships that exist between himself and his daughter and his ex-wife (Kathy Baker). As much as any of this year’s awards fodder, Last Chance Harvey is a simple story of redemption. Admittedly, significant portions of the film are not comfortable to watch because Harvey is enduring an awkward struggle, but like his character, the film redeems itself with the one thing that no one seems to be able to resist right now: hope.