Judge Daniel MacDonald never embarked upon an airport lounge romance. He's changing airlines.
Our review of Last Chance Harvey (Blu-Ray), published May 11th, 2009, is also available.
It's about first loves, last chances, and everything in between.
While it's uncommon to find a romance that's not part of a high-concept romantic comedy or embedded in an epic period piece, Last Chance Harvey would seem to fit that bill.
Facts of the Case
Harvey Shine (Dustin Hoffman, Wag the Dog) is having a hell of a day: he's lost his job, missed his flight, and just watched his daughter's stepfather walk her down the aisle, after traveling all the way to London for her wedding. As he's knocking back shots of Johnny Walker Blue in the airport lounge, he meets Kate Walker (Emma Thompson, Love Actually), a woman he thinks might be having a day as bad as his, and things start to turn around as he refuses to leave her alone.
The two walk about London, slowly letting their guards down—but is this simply a way to pass an afternoon, or is something deeper happening between Harvey and Kate?
Last Chance Harvey's simple structure, small cast of characters and smaller list of locations, and the formidable chemistry between the two leads add up to quite a charming motion picture. There's really little doubt how things will turn out, and the structure follows the well-worn traditions of hundreds of other romantic pictures, but Last Chance Harvey shines because of its clarity: the romance is the plot, and everything else is secondary.
Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman, having appeared together in the brilliant Stranger Than Fiction, have fantastic chemistry and are an instantly likeable couple, despite their characters' flaws. Hoffman's Harvey Shine, in particular, is demonstrably a self-centered jerk, and we are able to gauge pretty quickly how he managed to alienate his entire family. Again, the movie is hardly breaking any new ground by presenting a workaholic who absolutely must answer his cell phone no matter how inopportune the moment, but Hoffman milks the awkward, uncomfortable moments for all they are worth early on, peaking with a truly squirm-inducing rehearsal dinner. This early setup is wonderfully paid off during the reception dinner later in the film, when the potential for Harvey to embarrass himself is at its highest.
Kate is a more subtle characterization, and Thompson sinks her teeth into the role of an everyday woman with an ordinary, humdrum job who just can't seem to meet the right person and feels like a third wheel with her friends. She's extraordinarily vulnerable, making her flirtations with Harvey seem risky and electric.
The title refers to an ultimatum Harvey's boss (Richard Schiff, Civic Duty) levels in reference to a key account Harvey's working on, but it also aptly describes what's at stake in his burgeoning relationship with Kate: at his age and with his baggage, this may be his last chance to find love and happiness, and the same applies to her. It's a far more realistic ticking clock than we're usually offered in these types of pictures, and it's refreshing. Harvey is tenacious in his pursuit, and Kate exudes just enough skepticism to keep him on his toes.
Rounding out the story is Kate's mother, played by Eileen Aitkins (Gosford Park), growing increasingly suspicious of her next-door neighbor as she watches him take body-sized items into his smoking garage. It's immediately clear to the audience that he's smoking meat, yet writer/director Joel Hopkins (Jump Tomorrow) chose to stretch this bit of comic relief across nearly the film's entire running time, with the mom constantly calling her daughter and peering suspiciously out the window. While charming early on, this deviation from Harvey and Kate's romance grows dull. Granted, if you have Eileen Atkins in your movie, you use her as much as you can, but this silliness undermines the strength of the picture as a whole.
The London backdrops are gorgeous, injecting a huge amount of production value into the 2.35:1 frame, and the lighting is beautifully naturalistic; this Anchor Bay DVD does a fine job of reproducing Last Chance Harvey's rich tones. While there are some instances of edge enhancement, especially in darker scenes, and minor mosquito noise around objects shot against the sky, this is overall a pretty trouble-free transfer. Audio is warm and well-balanced, filling the room with subtle ambiance and the score. It won't stress your system by any means, but is a highly competent 5.1 soundtrack.
Special features include an 18-minute featurette comprised one third each of clips from the movie, mutual admiration between cast and crew, and actual information on the making of the film. An audio commentary with Hoffman, Thompson, and Hopkins delivers more behind-the-scenes info, and is surprisingly entertaining. A full-frame version of the picture is also included.
Despite being undermined by an ill-advised subplot, Last Chance Harvey is a very pleasant, heartwarming picture. Recommended as a rental.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
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