Sunday, 4 July 2010

Last Chance Harvey (2008)

Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep share a joint category in my movie-watching preferences, insofar that for many years I was unable to understand their broad appeal -- despite their many award nominations and apparent acting skills. Both struck me as being ever so mannered in their approach to their roles. However as I have written both previously and again quite recently, I have come to warm to Ms. Streep; unfortunately I have yet to reach the stage where I actually like Mr. Hoffman in many of his films. This is not to say that I haven't liked certain of his movies, especially if I cast my mind back to some of his roles from the 1970s and early 1980s, such as "Lenny" (1974), "Marathon Man" (1976), and "Tootsie" (1982). However while I have managed to enjoy some of his subsequent films, despite his distracting participation, I still find his overly-affected style something of a problem. As Laurence Olivier (who was himself a ham at times) is famously quoted as saying to Hoffman when he was busy trying to work out his 'motivation' for a scene, "Just try acting, dear boy".

The film under discussion here still finds Hoffman deep in his character's personality tics, but it is largely a lightweight yet likeable movie. This may be down to the appeal of his co-star Emma Thompson in this story of a man who comes to London to attend his slightly estranged daughter's wedding and who finds a new chance for romance and redemption after a chance meeting with Thompson's spinster. While the age difference between them is something of a distraction and although it would seem that Hoffman is trying to play younger than his chronological years, there does seem to be a potential chemistry between the two leads. They both have their problems: her single status is fussed over by her smothering mother, Eileen Atkins, and he finds it difficult to relate to his daughter and his ex-wife, Kathy Baker, especially when her new husband, James Brolin, is chosen to give away the bride. He is also fretful about his job back in New York and initially finds it easiest to distance himself from the wedding celebrations. Thompson manages to convince him to turn up at the reception (where the pair as latecomers are seated at the childrens' table) and he interrupts Brolin's toast to the couple to address some heartfelt and actually moving remarks to his daughter and new son-in-law.

Having been let go from his New York job and then subsequently been begged to return, Hoffman determines to stay in London to have a go at building a new and meaningful relationship with Thomson. When she reluctantly agrees (having been hurt so often in the past) and asks "Now what?", he replies that he has absolutely no idea, but knows that it will all be OK. We the viewer also want to believe this and can just about feel kindly towards Hoffman's erstwhile "loser", whose life is about to change after just one long weekend in a strange city.

A very strange London it is too! I know all about finding the most scenic locations for a story's action, but it never fails to annoy me in films where one leaves one location and seconds later finds oneself in another location which is actually miles away. The London here is a film-maker's London, not one which would make a coherent walking tour. Since the novice writer-director, Joel Hopkins, is English, I do find this blatant treatment of the city's geography a little inexcusable, but perhaps I am being just a wee bit too pedantic here.

This is not the breakthrough film which will have me really beginning to appreciate Hoffman as an actor, but even if it is a slightly disposable flick, I can't say I had any great problem watching it and even enjoying it while it lasted.
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