Should you take a chance on Harvey?
Writer/Director: Joel Hopkins
Notable Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, Eileen Atkins, Kathy Baker, Liane Balaban, James Brolin, Richard Schiff
The love story, in the classical sense, is a rarity. Romantic comedies, including bromances, have taken its place, still retaining the happily ever after moments so that the audience leaves home happy. Yet the happily ever after is subsequent to some stupid plot device (how to lose a guy in 10 days, honestly?) that bridges the first and third acts. Last Chance Harvey, while not free of such conventions, has what many romantic comedies lack: chemistry. Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson star as an unlikely pair. Their relationship doesn’t burgeon because of sitcom-style conventions; they are lonely souls just looking to fill a void, be it through friendship or something greater.
Harvey (Dustin Hoffman) is a behind-the-times composer of commercial music in the midst of a professional crisis. The pianist just wants to make sure he has a job to come back to while he heads off to London for his estranged daughter’s wedding. Upon arrival, Harvey finds himself as the odd man invited. He is shacked up in a hotel room while the rest of the family has rented a house for the momentous occasion. His ex has long remarried, and the new dad is more of a father to his daughter than he ever was. When Harvey makes a quick exit after the ceremony to catch a plane back to the States, he finds that the plane has already boarded. He also finds Kate (Emma Thompson) at an airport pub, she a soft-spoken airport interviewer for a British agency who spends her time away from the airport tending to her widowed mother. A day before, he breezed past her without a second glance. Today is a different story. Harvey’s casual observances of Kate spark conversation and a quick friendship that Kate tries to resist. But the sad-sack American is so enchanted with the Englishwoman that he sticks around London in an attempt to woo her affection. Kate is drawn to Harvey’s peculiarity and charm, and he to her kindness.
Watching Harvey, visions of Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise popped into my head. Linklater had young couple Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy converse the night away in the city of Vienna. The art of conversation is endearing to watch when you take the time to listen – or script, for that matter. Normally, light romantic fluff has one situation after another with little time to slow things down and communicate. That’s probably what attracted Hoffman and Thompson to Joel Hopkins’s screenplay; charming material that may have ringed a resounding thud with a different on-screen pair.
The two acting veterans and their performances is what makes the story. They are able to convey that sense of longing and insecurities through body language. And to see the height disparity in the relationship, where Hopkins doesn’t disguise the fact that Hoffman is shorter than Thompson, it fits with Hoffman’s sad-sack character.
Last Chance Harvey isn’t without its shortcomings. The music montage of Harvey watching Kate try on dresses so that they can attend his daughter’s wedding reception is unneeded. As is the subplot involving Kate’s mother that plays like a bad Rear Window episode, where she suspects her neighbor is carrying a dead body to his woodshed. Finally, the final act that follows the romantic-comedy formula of breaking up and making amends.
These quibbles aside, when it’s good, it’s good. Hopkins illustrates with Harvey and Kate that not everybody’s perfect. But for one serendipitous moment, maybe two people are perfect for each other.
FINAL RATING (ON A SCALE OF 1-5 BUCKETS):
Tags: dustin hoffman, Emma Thompson