Customer Reviews: Last Chance Harvey
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on December 31, 2008
Watching "Last Chance Harvey," I began to think about other such films and realized that I usually referred to them in my reviews as classic romantic comedies. But what exactly do I mean when I say that? In all likelihood, I mean that readers should go easy on the film because we're used to those movies following a very specific formula, and never mind the fact that they're contrived and cliché. I could very well call "Last Chance Harvey" a classic romantic comedy, because goodness knows it adheres to a tried and true structure. In spite of that, this is the one romantic comedy of 2008 that works the best, in large part because of stars Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson; whereas other filmmakers would cast young, energetic actors in a story about sex, writer/director Joel Hopkins has cast two older actors in a story is about love. Because they're more experienced, they actually bring something to the table. They seem genuine as people.

But more importantly, they have chemistry, not necessarily as lovers but definitely as companions. In other words, it seems plausible that such people could meet in real life and fall in love. Hoffman plays Harvey Shine, a jingle writer from New York who always wanted to be a jazz pianist. It was easy for me to empathize with him, a somber, soft-spoken man who always feels ignored in a large crowd. Maybe there's a part of him that wanted it that way; he's been known to embarrass himself and those closest to him, so at a certain point, it's better to just stay out of the way. He openly admits that he wasn't the greatest father or husband, and while there's no hostility between him or his daughter and ex-wife, there is a quiet yet prominent sense of disappointment on all accounts. And now, no one at his music company seems to be taking him seriously. More to the point, he's on the verge of losing his job.

When Harvey flies to London to attend his daughter's wedding, he meets a Heathrow employee named Kate Walker (Thompson), who, as it turns out, is stuck in her own emotional rut. She says she would like nothing more than to meet someone and start a relationship, but since she's been let down so many times, she may be getting used to it. Later on in the film, she admits that being disappointed is more comfortable that being hurt. Much like Harvey, she also feels ignored in crowds, as when she's on a blind date that starts off well but ends up as a social gathering that leaves her off in the sidelines. Her only social outlets are her coworkers and her mother (Eileen Atkins), an interesting character herself; she calls Kate constantly, pretty much to the point of insanity, and she seems to think her Polish next-door neighbor is a mass murderer who burns his victims in a large barbecue shed.

Harvey and Kate spend a wonderful afternoon together, and this is despite the fact that they don't know very much about each other. We don't know if a love is developing at this point, but it's clear that a friendship is. While a bit quiet and reserved, Harvey is kind towards Kate, and he seems genuinely interested in what she has to say. Kate is willing to go along with it, although her nervous smiles and hesitant laughter suggest that she has absolutely no idea why any of this is happening. From out of nowhere comes a charming American man, and even though he has a lot of emotional baggage, there's the sense that she's interested in helping him deal with it. Most likely, that's because she has baggage of her own; after convincing her to join him at his daughter's wedding reception, there comes a point when she feels exactly the same as she did the night of her blind date. It's up to Harvey to make her feel like she can be a part of the crowd.

There are some interesting moments between Harvey and his daughter, Susan (Liane Balaban). Even though they love each other in the strictest sense, they are more good friends than they are father and daughter, which is why she wants her stepfather, Brian (James Brolin), to give her away at the wedding. Harvey is understandably hurt, but he can't stay mad at Brian forever; after all, he did take over for Harvey when his marriage failed, giving Susan the stability and attention she needed. This would be a tiresome story were Brian made to be vindictive and hostile. Thankfully, he isn't--he's decent and accommodating, a fact Harvey most likely has trouble accepting. There are few things worse than disliking someone without having a reason.

So yes, I guess I can call "Last Chance Harvey" a classic romantic comedy. But that doesn't automatically make it a bad movie. What really made it work well was the thoughtful relationship between Harvey and Kate, which isn't based on physical attraction so much as it's based on the need to be loved. We don't get too much of that in romantic comedies these days. Even the entertaining "Definitely, Maybe" and "My Best Friend's Girl" were only committed to catering to younger audiences, which is a shame because the filmmakers missed some great opportunities to develop the characters at a more mature level. "Last Chance Harvey" gives its characters some degree of believability, and this is in spite of the story's formulaic elements. I greatly enjoyed this film, and I'm sure most audiences will also.
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By no means do I damn with faint praise when suggesting that this is a "small" film. Rather, only to suggest that it covers a brief period of time (a few days), in a single setting (London), focuses primarily on only two characters, and there few plot developments. Briefly, Harvey Shine (Dustin Hoffman) is employed by an advertising agency in Manhattan as a jingle writer when we are introduced to him. Almost immediately we sense that he is dissatisfied with both his career (he would prefer to earn a living as a jazz composer and performer) and with the current state of his life (he is divorced and apparently alienated from his adult daughter, Susan, who is about to be married in London). The title refers to both situations: Charley is advised by his boss Marvin (Richard Schiff who played the character Toby Ziegler on the television program, The West Wing) that his job is in jeopardy. After a very brief encounter upon arrival at Heathrow Airport with Kate Walker (Emma Thompson) seeking to obtain travel information from passengers, Harvey is saddened to learn from Susan (Liane Balaban) that she has decided that her stepfather Brian (James Brolin) will accompany her down the aisle. Of course, Harvey encounters Kate again and then....

The acting is outstanding. The setting is especially appropriate for what happens to a troubled New Yorker, among strangers in a strange city, at a time when he is running out of options in all areas of his life. Kate has concerns of her own but seems less troubled, probably because she fulfills at least some needs by comforting and reassuring her mother Maggie Walker (Eileen Atkins) who calls her constantly throughout the day (and evening), concerned about trivial matters. We know almost nothing else about Kate's private life, other than the absence of romance and few (if any) chances of finding it. She clearly does not wish to be hurt and is sensibly reluctant to become involved with anyone, even a stranger who is clearly unhappy, feels rejected, and in need of attention and kindness.

Five Star ratings of films should be reserved for "classics" and that is especially true of romantic comedies such as It Happened One Night, Little Shop Around the Corner, Sleepless in Seattle, and You've Got Mail. Last Chance Harvey is not in their class. However, I think Hoffman and Thompson are not only superb but have charming chemistry, the film is well-made, respectful of awkward adult situations with potentially serious consequences, and arrives at its happy ending with a pleasing plausibility.
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VINE VOICEon May 23, 2009
Format: DVD|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I understand that most people that go to movies are in their early 20's and the movie makers knowing this,aim their films for that audience generally,but this is a wonderful surprise.

A charming story of people at an older age that have hit many dead ends in life but because of chance,they discover that life doesn't have to be done, there can be a future filled with the excitement that you might feel only lived in the past.

With the two great actors,Dustin Hoffman & Emma Thompson and a wonderful supporting cast,this is a very well made movie that I feel has the legs to stand up for viewings in the future and still have that same warmth and heart.

I think that some of the twenty somethings that might see this now and write it off as silly,could very well see this film in several years and view it very differently after they gain some of the experience and disappointments that life brings.

I really feel this could be viewed as a classic in the future,
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on May 15, 2009
This movie is wonderful. I have to comment on some of the criticisms I have seen here--if you are looking for belly laughs and lousy computer generated effects,take your short attention span back to your x-box. This movie is a beautiful exercise in real story telling. These two seasoned actors bring incredible meaning and depth to a movie about real things that happen to people in real life. I was touched by the obvious and not so obvious messages in this story and feel it was, for me, a much awaited change from the fast-paced, meaningless bumblers Hollywood keeps ralphing out. Very well done--and thanks to Hoffman and Thompson for taking me along for the stroll. I needed the fresh air...
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on January 25, 2010
For those looking for a fast-paced, ultra-modern, and formulaic romantic comedy feel free to run back to the bad acting, effects-laden Hollywood tripe so often produced for an unimaginative audience. If, however, you are looking for a thoughtful and surprisingly human story, then Last Chance Harvey deserves your attention. Rather than finding this movie slow and boring, my wife and I felt compelled to stay up past our bedtime because we simply couldn't fall asleep until it was over.

Yes, the movie moves at a walking pace--that's part of its charm! We should rediscover the skills of paying attention to a real story that does not require the aide of special effects and heart-pounding action. Simply put, the story itself is beautiful and wonderfully acted. Its true-to-life and a worthy addition to one's movie library if one has an eye for art rather than mere amusement.
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Format: DVD|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Very slow movie throughout. The plot revolves around a man, Harvey (Dustin Hoffman), a jingle writer. He is about to lose his job and has a difficult relationship with his daughter. He travels to London to attend his daughter's wedding and meets Kate (Emma Thompson) who works for an airline conducting research. They experienced an unexpected and lovely romance. The movie is indeed lovely but so darn slow! Although the acting was amazing; actually, it was phenomenal, I was still falling asleep. I can't help but wonder what this movie could have been in the hands of another, more dynamic director.

I especially like the featurette as it revealed a lot of interesting things about the movie. For example, I though the movie was based on a book. Actually, the screenplay was written especially for the actors Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson.
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on September 14, 2014
Humor, pathos, romance and reconciliation. All this and more in an exquisite and textured movie about relationships - family and romance - for those of us who are "40ish" and older. Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson have great tangible on-screen chemistry.

Harvey and Kate meet accidentally - twice - and the second time is a charm. He is visiting from America and she is a resident Brit. They walk, they talk, they laugh and ultimately reveal some deeply painful facts about themselves and their lives. (Anyone with emotional scars will be able to relate to both these individuals.)

You will laugh and cry while watching this movie. It gives hope to those of us just over - or at the crest of - the proverbial hill that life can take a turn for the better when we least expect it, no matter the missteps we've taken in the past, as long as we're willing to be open to the possibility of love.
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VINE VOICEon December 8, 2009
Harvey Shine (Dustin Hoffman) is a kind man. Although he had dreamed of becoming a jazz pianist, he writes jingles for a living and he has done his job well for many years. Because of his age, his boss, Marvin, treats him as if he's no longer an asset to the company, suggesting that he stay in London (Harvey's daughter is getting married there) for a while instead of rushing back to work.
Kate Walker (Emma Thompson) works for the Public Statistics Agency in the airport and makes a living taking surveys from any arriving passenger who will allow her to ask the questions. She has a friend who tries to play matchmaker and a mother who craves her attention, phoning her constantly when they are apart.
And Kate's mother Maggie (Eileen Atkins) has her own little storyline. She had an active imagination but I could understand why she thought what she did. This woman amused me.
I felt bad for Harvey and Kate in the beginning because they seemed so alone in the world. Harvey was treated like an outcast at his daughter's wedding and that bothered me. And when his daughter gave him news that hurt him to his heart, I hurt right along with him. I was so glad when he found his voice at the reception. The toast he made brought tears to my eyes. And Kate -it seemed she was just going through the motions of life. When these two people got together I was so happy for them. They were lovable people even though they didn't seem to think so and they were good for each other.
No graphic sex scenes, no violence and not much profanity (did get carried away with the `s' word for a little while there). When this movie was really getting good, it was over and that was disappointing. I wish it would have been longer. I really enjoyed it.
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on October 19, 2009
This is a GREAT movie! It reaffirms my faith in the 'film' industry - that not everything made into a 'flick' has no-bound sex, and every word in the revised Webster's Dictionary. The acting is superb and the plot does the actors justice. Really a Must for your DVD library!

This is truly a "Don't Miss"!
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on November 28, 2009
I saw the trailer for this movie a while ago and thought I would definitely not see it. The trailer somehow missed all the sweetness and poignancy of the film. I thought it would be about two people being miserable and lonely together. It's exactly the opposite. It's two people becoming vibrant and alive together, and it's pitch perfect.

And the pacing is fantastic. It carries you along easily -- not a single scene is too long and not a single moment drags. And the chemistry between Hoffman and Thompson is surprisingly perfect. Goodness. I wish they would make a sequel.

Hoffman's acting is astonishing. I finally "get" what he does, and it's astonishing to see because so few actors do it anymore. His character actually listens. Processes. Then reacts. In the real time time of the movie, on the screen. It's the exactness you get from credible "reality tv." Seeing people's reactions to what is happening to them, or making decisions, in real time, in the moment. Hoffman is amazing at it. You'll see it especially well in the scene by the river where he's remembering, and telling Emma's character, about his divorce and his child. This is what they call acting. Wow.
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