Friday, January 09, 2009

Last Chance Harvey Sweetly Maddening

The best thing about the film, Last Chance Harvey, is the acting. What's not to like about a cast such as this: Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, Eileen Aitken, Richard Schiff, Kathy Baker? Then there's the added bonus of seeing an actress of your blogstress's vintage playing a romantic lead. How often does that happen?

Joel Hopkins's script manages to give off warm and fuzzy feelings despite the fact that it hangs together by only the thinnest of threads. We are asked to suspend disbelief and curiosity throughout the film. Never are we to truly know why the Hoffman character's daughter possesses such contempt for him that she pushes him to the very margins or her wedding. "I wasn't a good father," is about all Harvey Shine, the character played by Hoffman, gives us to chew on, and the script nowhere fills in the blanks.

Following the travails of Shine, a washed-up musician on the verge of losing his jingle-writing job, we are asked to believe that jingles are still written afresh for commercials. Honestly, when's the last time you heard a new advertising jingle? The rule these days is the recycling of pop hits, a la Swiffer's obnoxious "Baby Come Back" campaign, wherein a discarded mop is given the status of a jilted suitor, and Swiffer the lucky gal's new, improved lover. Dwell on that a minute, mes amis, and you have an assumption not unlike Hopkins' -- that Kate Walker (Emma Thompson's character) should count herself luck to win a soon-to-be unemployed 60-something guy who is completely estranged from his family. If a cleaning tool stands in for a lover, then surely a self-involved schlub can stand in for Prince Charming.

Hopkins' lead characters are constantly on their cell phones yet, despite their interest in each other, neither ever asks the other for a number.

The story relies on the sublimated artistic inclinations of both characters, but only reveals Harvey's talent -- in a scene where he woos Kate Walker, the Thompson character, back to him by showing off at the piano keyboard. This after he has dissed her by essentially ignoring her at a party.

Later, we learn that the big hurt in Kate's life has to do with an exercise of her own autonomy. Had the rest of the film not been designed to generate sympathy for Harvey because of the mean women in his life, Kate's regret would have seemed more honest.

You will be forgiven, dear reader, for assuming your écrivaine did not enjoy this film. Actually, however, I rather liked it. Emma Thompson is delightful. And Dustin Hoffman is adorable. In fact, I seem to have a thing for Hoffman, even in -- or perhaps especially in -- his roles as the jerk. The Graduate, Kramer v. Kramer, now Last Chance Harvey: they each make less than flattering statements about women, and the first two are downright poisonous. But he's so cute!

Excusez-moi; it's time for my pill.

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