Last Chance Harvey Review

Last Chance Harvey isn’t very much but, considering how awful most romantic comedies are, it’s just about enough. A bittersweet meeting between Harvey, a gradually failing American wondering whether or not he should attend his estranged daughter’s wedding, and Kate, a mother dominated spinster, it runs all sorts of risks but avoids being too damaged by them. It may well remind you of other, better films at times - About Schmidt in particular comes to mind – but it never comes away too bloodied from the comparisons.

A good deal of the success of the film comes from the casting and raises an interesting point about why producers pay good money to obtain the participation of stars. What, after all, is a star? It’s an actor who comes onto the screen and instantly lights it up, focusing your attention and gorging upon it. That’s an incredibly valuable thing and can make the difference between a reasonably good film and a thoroughly memorable one. Last Chance Harvey is such a delicate little thing that it would wisp away if it were not for the central casting of Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman, two genuine stars who give the film lift and make it fly.

Emma Thompson has been great many times before – hell, she was even great in Junior - and she’s great again here, taking a clichéd old maid role and giving it grit and depth. In her conversations with scene-stealing Eileen Atkins, as a particularly nightmarish mother, she has just the right combination of patience and exasperation. But it’s with Hoffman that she comes into her own and we see this woman’s baggage of lifetime of disappointments suddenly coming into perspective and starting to lighten. Dustin Hoffman is equally good, as we’ve come to expect, and he sparks off Thompson beautifully. These two seem right together – the rightness that we need in a good love story – and they make each other glow. We could watch these two together all night.

Consequently, it’s rather unfortunate that the film doesn’t allow us to just enjoy the two stars interacting together. Whenever they are on screen together, we don’t want anything but to watch and listen to them converse but the director keeps giving us little montages and visions of them having conversations that we can’t hear. It’s deeply frustrating because you can see that he’s trying to make a love story a bit like Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise but not quite managing it – certainly the attempt to make London’s South Bank a romantic paradise to echo Venice or the banks of the Seine in An American In Paris is rather strained. The real romantic enchantment lies in the chemistry between our two stars, not the locations against which they are photographed.

The background story – Harvey’s flailing career as a writer of advertising jingles and his trepidation about going to his daughter’s wedding when she has asked her stepfather to give her away – is just about strong enough to keep our interest, although it would be unthinkable without some very strong casting – Kathy Baker and James Brolin are particularly good as the stepfather and Harvey’s wife. It’s rather a shame that director Joel Hopkins doesn’t trust his central relationship enough to do without some rather melodramatic plot mechanics towards the end but his screenplay is considerably better than his direction and keeps coming up with good lines right to the finish. His greatest achievement here, however, is to create a love match which feels real and true and to have the courage not to betray it with undue sentimentality. And he should be thanking his lucky stars that Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson were free at the right time.

The Disc

Momentum’s Region 2 DVD of Last Chance Harvey is a pleasing package which offers a good transfer and some interesting extra features.

The anamorphically enhanced 2.35:1 image is generally excellent, doing full justice to the beautiful cinematography of the London locations. The colours are particularly impressive being rich, full and true. The darker scenes show a small amount of artifacting at times but it’s not disastrous. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is pretty uneventful, as you’d expect from this sort of film, but it renders the dialogue and music score very nicely indeed and offers a nice selection of ambient noise on the surrounds.

The audio commentary is a good one and features Joel Hopkins and Emma Thompson together and Dustin Hoffman recorded separately. All concerned radiate enthusiasm about the project and share some entertaining behind the scenes anecdotes. We also get two featurettes. The first is a basic making-of piece which has the expected amount of mutual backslapping and on location footage. The second is a Region 2 exclusive which is devoted to the London locations and various views on how the city is developing. Also on the disc is the original trailer. English subtitles for the main feature and an audio descriptive track are also offered.

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