A struggling New York jingle writer (Dustin Hoffman) and a lonely British bureaucrat (Emma Thompson) meet by chance in London and transforms one anothers lives.
Released in the US on Christmas Day, Last Chance Harvey got lost among the welter of high-profile Oscar contenders and wound up grossing a disappointing $US13.7 million.
Benefiting from a much smarter release date in Australia, this handsome showcase for the exquisite talents of Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson deserves to find a wide audience.
At its heart, it’s a tender love story of two lost, lonely, bruised souls whose paths intersect at London’s Heathrow airport.
Hoffman is Harvey Shine, a struggling New York composer who ekes out a living writing jingles. He’s in London to attend the wedding of his daughter Susan (Liane Balaban). Socially awkward and with the penchant for saying the wrong thing, Harvey has a strained relationship with Susan and with his ex-wife and her husband (Kathy Baker and James Brolin). Life deals Harvey yet another cruel blow when Susan informs him she wants her step-father to give her away.
Harvey goes to the wedding but intends to skip the reception to fly back to New York for the job he hopes will save his career, but misses his flight and his boss fires him over the phone. In the bar he strikes up a conversation with airport worker Kate (Thompson), a bookish, lonely singleton with a needy mother and an unhappy history with blind dates. Hoffman and Thompson spark off each other beautifully, initially trading barbs before they start to discover they may be very different people, but they share an emptiness and yearning for affection.
They head off to the reception, where Harvey gives an impromptu speech which threatens to embarrass everyone, including him, but is painful in its honesty and truly poignant: it moved me to tears. Kate, for reasons which become clear, refuses to commit to a relationship; besides, she lives in London, he’s based in New York, so how can this turn out to be anything more than a fun interlude? A sub-plot involving Kate’s mother, who harbors suspicions that her creepy Polish neighbour is a serial killer, adds to the intrigue.
The second film from writer-director Joel Hopkins (his debut, Jump Tomorrow, earned him the Carl Foreman award for most promising newcomer at the 2002 BAFTAs), Last Chance Harvey is a highly polished effort with a lot of heart, droll humor and pathos. There are a few too many coincidences plus a contrived third act twist to be entirely plausible, but such dramatic licence is pretty common and doesn’t detract from the story’s innate charm and appeal.
In their second teaming after Marc Forster’s under-appreciated Stranger than Fiction, Hoffman and Thompson are in top form. He resists the hammy approach which sometimes mars his work, making Harvey a highly sympathetic character. Thompson, as ever, is a class act, infusing Kate with a vulnerability and bruised dignity. Here are two middle-aged characters it's very easy to care about, even if you’re way younger than the protagonists.
Watch 'Last Chance Harvey'
Monday 18 May, 5:50pm on SBS World Movies (now streaming at SBS On Demand)
Genre: Romance, Drama
Director: Joel Hopkins
Starring: Emma Thompson, Dustin Hoffman, Kathy Bates, James Brolin
What's it about?
A struggling New York jingle writer Harvey (Hoffman) and lonely British bureaucrat Kate (Thompson) meet by chance in London at a wedding and transforms one another's lives. Kate, for reasons which become clear, refuses to commit to a relationship; she lives in London, he’s based in New York, so how can they turn this into anything more than a fun interlude?