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Non-Review Review: Last Chance Harvey

There’s something pleasant about watching just-past-their-prime actors working together on small-scale productions. Kinda a reminder that even though they don’t dominate Hollywood anymore (because Hollywood has little respect for their elderly), they are still around. It’s even nicer when they stray from the projects that they are obviously making a fair bit of capital on (such as Dustin Hoffman’s work in Meet the Fockers) towards smaller, more intimate fare. Last Chance Harvey is a solid and sweet romantic comedy in the very classical sense. It doesn’t rely on inappropriate sex jokes or physical comedy to make its audience laugh, just provides some wonderfully awkward ‘that could happen and it would be mortifying’ humour paired with some emotional honesty. And, despite being crafted in the mould of a classical genre, it manages to seem like a breath of fresh air.

Thankfully, Harvey is never short with her...

Let’s be honest, we haven’t had a good old fashioned romantic comedy in yonks – mainly because Hollywood can’t decide what the audience for romantic comedies wants. It’s generally banal fare featuring hip and successful actors and actresses within the genre, with an ‘edgier’ appeal creeping in. By ‘edgier’, I mean that Hollywood is growing ever more comfortable with sex and sexuality. So we get vibrating underwear. Generally the few solid romantic comedies we’ve seen – like Chasing Amy or (500) Days of Summer – have been hip and happening modern indie fare, that are generally a lot more frank and lot less sugar coated than the traditional studio productions. Last Chance Harvey is neither of these, and that gives it a certain amount of leeway with the audience.

The plot follows recurring losers Harvey (Dustin Hoffman) and Kate (Emma Thompson), both alone and struggling to get by. We spend the first half-an-hour of the film getting to know them as they have several near-misses. The film knows that we know they must at least inevitably encounter one-another and is at least honest about that. It never pretends to be anything it isn’t, as it hits all the story beats which we would expect from a romantic comedy. But it does give us two interesting leading characters, both of whom are – to varying degrees – damaged goods who never made as much of their lives as they might hope. She’s an airline attendant and he has found himself replaced in his marraige by James Brolin. Such is life.

The film’s real success, beyond overing us a glimpse of life past fifty, is the casting of the leads. Dustin Hoffman is admittedly not in his prime, but post-prime Dustin Hoffman is better than 90% of actors. It helps that he avoids what seems to be a strong temptation among Hollywood’s OAP population to become a large ham, instead giving us the eponymous Harvey, a man who is a failure in so many ways (despite his attempts to make it seem otherwise). Emma Thompson is just as effective as Kate, giving her a beaten-down attitude – as if the world (and her mother) have worn her down and she is almost too tired to bother any more. The two leads have a chemistry together which really works and helps make the film feel more than just a standard love story.

It’s not a perfect film by a long shot – for example, some of their initial courting makes Harvey seem vaguely like a creepy stalker (the fact that Dustin Hoffman is noticeably shorter than Emma Thompson doesn’t help), or the fact that the seemingly mandatory third-act hurdle seems unnecessarily cruel and also somewhat pointless (a potent combination) – but it is a nice little romantic movie. It’s a love story like the kind that you really don’t see getting made anymore. If you are looking for a conventional romance that really hits the spot, you could do a lot worse than Last Chance Harvey.

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