Top positive review
97 people found this helpful
Finding Love in a Foreign Land
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.