Posted by: Dr P | September 11, 2009

Last Chance Harvey

Dear reader, I do not normally like the word “nice”. It suggests mediocre, pleasant, affable, perhaps even just ever so slightly disappointing. “Oh that’s nice, dear”. “Nice looking”. “Those ‘Nice’ biscuits from Nice are nice”. However, in the case of this movie I’ll make an exception. The love story of sorts portrayed by the remarkable Dustin Hoffman and the ever so nice Emma Thompson is guaranteed to leave you feeling heartwarmed, and just generally “nice”! For a major Hollywood movie to feature no sex, no violence, no nudity, no swearing, and indeed very little actual action, this was just lovely.

Let’s set the scene. Hoffman is a player in the music business. OK, he writes jingles for TV ads, but it’s still a cushy job. However, his boss, the very very nice Richard Schiff of “Toby Ziegler” West Wing fame is about to sack him and replace him with fresh, younger blood. Meanwhile his semi-estranged daughter is getting married in London and Hopffman has flown over for the wedding – only to find himself staying on his own in a hotel while his ex-wife and new beau are staying with the girl and most of her friends in plush surroundings. Sounds completely naff doesn’t it.

However there’s worse. Thompson’s character is a committed spinster, whose slim-to-zero chances of a love life are perpetually curtailed by a lack of self esteem and a paranoid mother who phones 20 times a day to see if she’s ok, and to gossip about her odd new Polish neighbour. Set up on a blind date, she finds herself sloping off despite there seeming to be a chance of making a new friend at least. Even worse, she works at Heathow airport running customer surveys and basically getting the brush off all day long (including once from a grumpy Hoffman as he arrives from the States) so her life is pretty dull.

The wedding eve dinner sees Hoffman ridiculed by many of the guests and dealt the hammer blow of his daughter telling him she’d rather her stepdad give her away. Yes, just what any dad wants to hear, the stepdad stepping in … if you’re thinking at this point that the movie is anything but “nice”, it’s testament to the writers who really do pour the misery on for the first half hour.

The wedding day gets even worse. Hoffman attends the ceremony, but then ducks out of the reception and heads to the airport. Before boarding the plane he calls his boss who basically fires him and tells him to stay in London. Deciding to drown his sorrows, he then meets Thompson in the airport lounge where she’s escaping from her own dreadful day with a light lunch and a glass of chardonnay.

It’s at this point that the whole movie starts to come alive. Hoffman starts to chat to an initially reluctant Thompson and we see an almost instant chemistry develop. These two actors are at the top of their game here, both immensely watchable, and you can instantly believe the attraction that builds between them. Before we know it, the two are wandering the London streets pouring their hearts out, and we are immersed fully into it. As the day develops, Thompson persuades him that he must return to his daughter’s wedding, and he insists she accompany him.

Once he has finally persuaded her to come to the wedding, and bought her a dress, Hoffman finally has his triumphant moment. Having surprised everyone by turning up again, he then steals the movie with a beautiful, heartfelt speech to his daughter; it’s obvious, it’s simple, but it works, dragging the viewer through the emotional mill. That, above all, is the secret of this film – unlike so many films you see, these characters really resonate and you really feel for them. When Hoffman fails to show for a lunch date the day after the night before, the complete misery that sweeps over Thompson is beautifully realised and totally believable. When they finally reunite, it’s triumphant and uplifting.

Don’t forget to take note of the scene where we see inside Thompson’s writing class – there’s a randy old pensioner writing dirty fiction. Nice!!

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