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"LAST CHANCE HARVEY"
(2008) (Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Dramedy: A middle-aged woman and an older man become unlikely friends and possible lovers as they commiserate over their quiet lives of desperation.
PLOT:
Harvey Shine (DUSTIN HOFFMAN) is a divorced writer of commercial jingles whose best days are seemingly behind him, as his boss, Marvin (RICHARD SCHIFF), isn't sure of his future in the business. With that in mind, Harvey flies from New York to London for the marriage of his estranged daughter, Susan (LIANE BALABAN), to Scott (DANIEL LAPAINE).

Upon his arrival, however, Harvey finds himself the odd man out as the rest of the wedding party is staying in a house rented by his ex-wife, Jean (KATHY BAKER), and her new husband, Brian (JAMES BROLIN). Things get worse when a phone call informs him he's been fired, while Susan delivers a second whammy by telling him she's chosen Brian to give her away at the wedding rather than him.

Public Statistics Agency survey taker Kate Walker (EMMA THOMPSON) isn't having as bad of a day, but her life is also filled with despair. Single and unable to find the right man -- much to the chagrin of her coworkers Oonagh (BRONAGH GALLAGHER) and Aggie (WENDY MAE BROWN) -- Kate spends most of her time dealing with her elderly mother, Maggie (EILEEN ATKINS), both in person and constantly on the phone, especially about her neighbor of whom she's suspicious.

After a brief but terse meeting, Harvey later apologizes to Kate when they later run into each other. She initially wants nothing to do with him, but he lays on the charm and eventually breaks through her defenses. From that point on, the two hang out and commiserate, especially about his role in his daughter's marriage and life.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
"But what we call our despair is often only the painful eagerness of unfed hope."
George Eliot

"The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation."
Henry David Thoreau

"There is no logical explanation for despair. You can no more reason yourself into cheerfulness than you can reason yourself an extra six inches in height. You can only be better prepared."
Stephen Fry

The ironically named Harvey Shine isn't ready for what's about to lead him into further despair. Something of a dinosaur in the world of composing commercial jingles, the divorced man learns in one day that he's lost his job; he ends up being the odd man out regarding his daughter's wedding plans; and she's just informed him that she's chosen her stepfather to give her away at the ceremony rather than him.

Yet, he's anything but quiet, chatting up everyone but the person who most wants to talk to him, Kate Walker. Of course, her interest is purely professional as she's the survey taker who approaches incoming travelers at the airport. When she's not working, however, she's better at following Thoreau's statement, probably due to having to listen to her chatterbox of a mom, both in person and via constant phone calls.

Due to the way that director Joel Hopkins cuts back and forth between their lives of despair -- and despite him blowing her off upon their initial meeting -- we know it's only a matter of time before the two end up meeting again, followed by some clashing, commiserating, and maybe just falling for each other (albeit, cautiously, hesitantly, and with a bump or two in the road along the way) in the romantic comedy "Last Chance Harvey."

While the film does continue the longstanding cinematic staple of the May-December romantic pairing featuring leads Dustin Hoffman (71 years of age, but not looking it) and Emma Thompson (who's two decades and change his junior), it bucks the usual rom-com trend of skewing young and thus doesn't include much, if any related material that would normally appease the under thirty viewer.

Instead, it's something of a throwback to a certain variety of romantic comedies of old, unhurried and allowing its characters to dominate the proceedings rather than cutesy and clever storylines or the likes of quick jaunts to the bedroom.

While personal opinion will obviously vary, the film is beset by some problems that undermine its results. For starters, there are the usual genre conventions, such as the obligatory trying on clothes montage (and it really feels out of place here), and the opinionated best friend characters (Wendy Mae Brown as well as Bronagh Gallagher who played one of the backup singers in the terrific "The Commitments").

Most notable, however, is the standard interactive trajectory regarding the lead characters where they clash at first, then become friends, lean toward budding romance, have a falling out, and then experience reconciliation. As a result, there's little doubt where the plot is headed, and the film ends up feeling even slower than it is, with no help from Hopkins the screenwriter in terms of the dialogue that just isn't snappy or interesting enough to offset the pace.

Granted, the offering does benefit from the presence of Hoffman and Thompson, and individually they and their characters' travails are engaging enough, even if the latter are clearly not novel (an unhappy with his place in the world man who's estranged from his daughter meets a lonely woman whose life is her work when she's not handling her in-constant-contact mother). The issue for me is that their chemistry together never feels genuine and thus doesn't gel. It doesn't help that his character latches onto hers like a remora and doesn't let go, something that should have had her stalker warning flags flying high.

Yes, I understand the latter is supposed to be cute and indicative of him realizing the meaning of the title. It's just that their individual despair is what makes them kindred spirits and thus potential romantic interests. I just never fully bought into the pairing and thus didn't care if they ended up together or not.

That doesn't mean it's bad, but the pic simply didn't engage me enough through character development or story arc to hold my interest. While it earns a few points simply for being a romantic comedy that features older leads and thus targets an older audience, and thankfully never feels too desperate itself, its mediocrity results in nothing more than a mediocre score. "Last Chance Harvey" rates as a 5 out of 10.




Reviewed January 12, 2009 / Posted January 16, 2009


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