Shine on Harvey Swoon
"Last Chance Harvey" is the sort of movie I like because in a way it shows an old dog can learn new tricks. You are probably thinking I've gone barking mad with that comment but what I mean is that the central premise to "Last Chance Harvey" is a standard romantic drama, strangers meet and after a short time together something possibly spoils a blossoming romance. Yet this standard romantic drama is made all the more interesting not only by having the credible acting of Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson but in doing so making a rare romantic drama between slightly older people. At the same time it also has echoes of "Before Sunrise" as we follow their characters around for a 24 hour period in London, although the scope of the movie is larger than just those 24 hours. All of which means that a standard romantic storyline, a well used cliche ends up feeling different because of just some thoughtful casting and a little bit of clever tinkering.
Jingle writer Harvey Shine (Dustin Hoffman - Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium) is under pressure at work as his bosses favour the younger staff and to make matters worse he has to be in London for the weekend for the marriage of his daughter who since the split from his wife has become distant to. And if things couldn't get any worse he gets a call whilst in London to be told he's lost his job. It leads him to an airport bar where he meets researcher Kate Walker (Emma Thompson - I Am Legend) who going on in years knows that love is passing her by. But after a moment of small talk they find themselves spending the next 24 hours together, talking as they take in the sights of London.
So at its heart "Last Chance Harvey" is a cliche romantic drama as two strangers meet and end up basically falling for each other over a space of a few hours but then something occurs which could bring that romance to an end. But with his being a romantic drama between older people it feels different, less stereotypical and more restrained even more natural. But then whilst we have this charming friendship which forms between Harvey and Kate we also have the Harvey storyline as he has to deal with the fact his daughter sees her stepfather as more of a dad and that he senses his ex-wife and daughter are embarrassed by him. It again gives this standard storyline a slightly different feel because of the emotion of this story.
The thing is that this means "Last Chance Harvey" plays out pretty much as you expect as we spend time following Harvey and Kate around as they end up spending a day together. When they agree to meet up again at noon you can sense that something will occur which could cause them to miss the date and you also sense that whilst we heard Harvey loosing his job it wouldn't be unexpected if he got offered it back leading to him being tempted back to America. It almost feels that writer and director Joel Hopkins purposefully took a standard idea to prove it could be made more interesting by the choice of location, cast and simply how it is shot.
The biggest reason why it does end up feeling different is the casting and when you have Oscar calibre actors in Hoffman and Thompson you can't go far wrong. Both Hoffman and Thompson delight with there nervous style acting, Hoffman as Harvey talks and talks whilst Thompson as Kate is more edgy, unsure and almost unwilling to risk her heart. It means we end up being charmed by this older couple who bring out the best in each other and by the time the trouble expectedly arrives you have taken them into your hearts.
The movie only has one backfire for me and that is a strange subplot surrounding Kate's mother who spies on her neighbour who she thinks is a murderer. I know the intent was to be amusing and it sort of is but it feels too separate from the main focus and at times little more than a distraction.
What this all boils down to is that "Last Chance Harvey" is a familiar movie with a familiar story but thanks to the casting, location and clever writing it feels different to the normal cliche romantic dramas which get churned out. Much of that is down to the charming performances of Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson who work so well together.