Did people actually watch Last Chance Harvey in the theatres? I remember being interested in it because of Emma Thompson (I’ve been in love with her ever since Henry V where she played opposite her then-husband Kenneth Branagh — to me they were the true cinema power couple; but I digress…). Despite the fact that she was going to be paired with Dustin Hoffman, the commercial made this movie look promising. Hoffman plays Harvey Shine, a way-past-prime jingle-writer going to London for his daughter’s wedding. One disappointment after another brings his day to a crashing low. He could not seem any more pitiful, but as sad as it is to watch him, I still didn’t feel empathy for him (maybe that’s actually a credit to Hoffman’s acting skills). Exasperated, he runs into Thompson’s character, Kate Walker, in an airport restaurant and they strike up a conversation. She’s not having a great life either: every regret just keeps piling on until she can’t really take it. When the two start to interact, it’s mostly Harvey pursuing Kate with questions and following her around town like a stalker — though Kate keeps saying “Sure”.
I was completely surprised by how much I enjoyed the performances in this movie. Despite the de rigeur presence of background music and tableau scenes of characters in thought, this movie had a naturalness to it. Harvey transformed from a pitiful loser to a more loveable person right before my eyes (the scene of his toast at the reception gave me a lump in my throat) and it seemed clear that it was because of Kate’s presence and his affection for her. It’s also interesting that in a rom-com about older characters, whose lives feel more “lived-in”, the inevitable optimism at the climax is more muted and believable. Add to that a dash of British charm and humour from Thompson, the London setting, and writer/director Joel Hopkins, and the result is a wonderful, heartfelt movie. (4 out of 5)