1/16/2009

Last Chance Harvey (2009)






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"I want to see people who I actually believe to exist, who are vaguely like me, falling in love... People who aren't perfect, who aren't so beautiful that anyone would go for them. You don't see love stories about that, you just see very beautiful people falling in love with each other and I'm just bored, I'm bored witless. I don't care about them!"
-- Emma Thompson
(As Quoted in the Production Notes for Last Chance Harvey)

Obviously, she isn't alone as Last Chance Harvey garnered Golden Globe nominations for both Thompson and her leading man Dustin Hoffman, reuniting for the first time following their work in Marc Forster's brilliant Stranger than Fiction.

Recent recipient of the Heartland's Truly Moving Picture Award, making Harvey (and the other honoree Marley and Me) one of the first titles to have been bestowed such an honor in 2009, this refreshingly human love story centering on characters over forty is equally filled with tragedy, romance, and humor similar to not only Fiction but Thompson's turn in Love Actually, 2008's bittersweet love story mystery Definitely, Maybe and 2007's underrated Dan in Real Life.


Easily dubbed "Before Sunrise for Baby Boomers" by a cynical faction of critics adding character descriptions including "lovable losers," "sad-sacks" and "failures" when summing up the romantic leads-- while the film cuts deeply into melancholy situations that are instantly recognizable to viewers, in the end it's a romance you truly believe in and want to work.

Part of this authenticity is what brought the Oscar winning actors on board as Hoffman illustrated that since "Emma and I have done character roles all our acting lives... This time, we wanted to do something very close to ourselves." Although it intercuts the plights of both characters, we're first very invested in Hoffman's Harvey Shine, a New York based jingle writer who ventures to London for his daughter's wedding and finds himself fired not only from his job but his wedding duties as his daughter (Liane Balaban) tells him she's asked her stepfather (James Brolin) to walk her down the aisle.


Essentially treated as though he were the last kid to be picked for dodgeball, Harvey withdraws from the festivities and tries to catch the first flight home when he happens upon Kate (Thompson), an Office of National Statistics poll-taker airport employee who struggles with endless bad dates, botched fix-ups, and a clingy mother (Eileen Atkins) who phones her even more often than Lorelai called Rory on TV's Gilmore Girls.

True to the genre, the couple have a few near-meets before they finally exchange actual dialogue and when Hoffman finally makes an attempt to chat her up in the airport bar, eating lunch across from her (when she refuses to dine with a stranger), he gets her laughing enough to catch the woman off guard and thus begins their whirlwind courtship as budding friends with a flirtatious overtone as he manages to sweet talk her into accompanying him back to his daughter's wedding reception.


The sophomore directorial effort from Jump Tomorrow's award winning filmmaker Joel Thompson whose delightful Jump earned a fan in Harvey's leading lady, Emma Thompson who loved the first draft of Harvey, via e-mail offered to send it directly to Dustin Hoffman. Hoffman's response was positive, e-mailing Thompson back roughly forty eight hours later with some notes as the actors began contributing more and more to fine-tuning the characters so that they're not only a bit more suitable for the actors but that they're instantly believable as people you'd meet on the street.

Hopkins, who expressed in the press release his affection for more mature and older characters whom he finds "much more interesting" as "they've experienced so many more things and they've got so much more baggage, which is good...[and] always interesting," wanted to ensure that-- as he wrote on a Post-it note when working on the casting, there would be "No baddies in this movie." Instead, he desired everyone in his screenplay to become fully developed humans as opposed to cardboard caricatures.

Joking that he believes the old adage that "directing is mostly getting your casting right," he humbly acknowledges his cast, saying he didn't need to do anything over and beyond telling "them where to stand," however one feels he's selling himself a bit short with a second assured piece of filmmaking.


Still, it must be said that Thompson and Hoffman instantly vanish inside their characters and we with them. True to Thompson's earliest quote, we're never bored by the tales of these two whose flaws make them even more fascinating in feeling both their joy and sorrow. And more often than not, we find ourselves identifying with-- if not all of their struggles-- than at least some as people from all walks of life try to navigate the rocky terrain of love, all with various baggage we have difficulty trying to check-- whether we're going down the street or journeying to another country.


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