Last Chance Harvey

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis



            “Last Chance Harvey” is an expensive production of a very small fairy tale. Appropriately scheduled for release on Christmas Day, the film is bedecked with three A-list actors, a London location, and big time production values. It is the unlikely story of an American (Dustin Hoffman as Harvey) and a Brit (Emma Thompson as Kate), both mired in the emptiness of their own lives. We meet each of them before they meet each other, and we know immediately that someone will sprinkle the fairy dust necessary for transformation. 

            But you can’t sprinkle that dust too early, as we all know, or things will melt into nothing. So writer/director Joel Hopkins keeps them apart for a very long time, all the better for us to understand why they are made for each other which in this case is a very hard thing to fathom. Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman are a thoroughly unlikely screen couple. Each carries the key to the other’s happiness only through the magic of good acting. Thompson, nearly a head taller than Hoffman, is agile physically and emotionally. Hoffman is a bit of a low slung tank; he lumbers. It is nearly inconceivable that his Harvey is a jazz pianist and jingle writer. 

            Kate is a numbers pusher for the Office of National Statistics, another stretch, since Emma Thompson is all about fire and ice and humor. But since this is a fairy tale, can’t two opposites share at the very least compassion and loneliness? Harvey’s despair becomes acute when he is fired by transatlantic phone from his jingle job and fired in person by his daughter from walking her down the aisle at her London wedding. Dutiful Kate forces him to attend the wedding where his ex-wife and new husband are the stars. Now is the moment to say that the supporting cast – even Eileen Atkins as Kate’s ludicrous mother, is not memorable in any way. 

            Kate and Harvey spend a lot of time watching the Thames flow. Will their growing connection be strong enough to keep him in England? Your guess. If you can accept the fact that this is a slow witted movie that asks Emma Thompson to tamp down her entire personality and asks Dustin Hoffman to be something he just isn’t, you will be rewarded by a surprise. It’s not from nothing that each of these actors has become an icon capable of lifting any movie they are in. In this one they sprinkle the fairy dust on their own fairy tale, one built from a weak premise and a predictable script. Emma Thompson’s acting is so relaxed and effortless, Dustin Hoffman’s so honest and low key that it becomes nearly credible that both are in the perfect situation to let a new life flow in to their dreary lives. Watching them create two characters who tell the truth to each other in an otherwise phony world becomes reason enough to see the movie.

 


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