Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Last Chance Harvey


Last Chance Harvey came out in the US in time for Awards season ... Emma Thompson claiming a Golden Globe nomination. It comes out in Britain, much more appropriately for it's a summer feel-good movie, on June 5th. I went to its first English showing the other day, a private screening for Emma's friends and family in London's Soho Hotel, introduced by its writer / director Joel Hopkins.
It's a gradual, steady movie which accumulates some real power. Dustin Hoffman's Harvey is a composer whose career is on the ropes, in London for his daughter's wedding where's he's displaced by her stepfather. Emma's Kate is an airline employee, her widowed mother (Eileen Atkins) hectoring her by mobile phone about lovelessness. The acting of the lead couple is magnificently unshowy, fun and fear and hope and hopelessness simmering and flashing in the eyes.
It's a comedy about two mature people, rendered solid by disappointments, daring to open up and give relationship one more try. The writing was a rare treat: some great come-on lines from Hoffman and a fine long speech from his Harvey, standing up at his daughter's reception to finally have his say. Most striking for me was Kate's final speech on London's South Bank, a long 'you're fine and all that but I'm much better on my own thank you very much because I can't bear the inevitable pain of breaking up' line of speech. It was astonishingly sustained, so many swoops and dives of emotion, all mirrored in Emma's face that reddened and streaked with tears. It's brave to act in so open a way, to allow your face to be ten foot high and distorted by pain. The writing was astonishing - I found it hard to see how so many shifts, so much accurately fractured language, for so long, was ever captured on the page.
Joel deflected the praise for that element. Emma had seen his original for that scene, smiled and said yes it's a good try, and then rewritten it herself. Her Oscar-winning actor joined her Oscar-winning screenwriter side for a while, and the result is sheeringly brilliant.
You step from this film feeling good about life (and if you sit through the credits, the mother's story is rounded off sweetly too). Go see it.

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