By and large romantic comedies are the domain of the young. Sally was 28 when she met Harry and Julia Roberts was just 23 when she starred in Pretty Woman. A new movie called Last Chance Harvey sees Stranger than Fiction co-stars Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson—aged 71 and 49 respectively—bet that audiences will want to see a slightly more mature romance play itself out on screen.
Harvey Shine (Hoffman) is the kind of guy who always looks like an unmade bed. He’s been beaten up by life, and if it wasn’t for bad luck this guy wouldn’t have no luck at all. In the past twenty-four hours he’s been fired from his job, missed a plane and been told that he won’t be walking his daughter down the aisle at her wedding. Meanwhile Kate Walker (Thompson) is an unhappy single woman with a boring job and an overbearing mother. Her best friend Una, who tries in vain to set her up on blind dates, says that the endless phone calls from Kate’s mother are “human contraception” and the reason she can’t find love. Kate and Harvey couldn’t be any more different, he’s a brash American, she’s a blunt, but reserved Brit, but when they meet perhaps opposites will attract.
Last Chance Harvey is a slight movie. It follows the conventions of romantic comedies we’ve seen a thousand times—two unlikely people beating the odds to become a happy couple by the time the credits roll. Dorky Harry meets beautiful Sally. Pretty Woman of the Night meets and is seduced by suave rich guy. You get the idea. You usually know how the movie will end before it even starts, so the challenge for filmmakers is to keep the journey interesting. How the lovers wind up together is as important as why.
To that end Last Chance Harvey does a charming, if slightly forgettable job of bringing these two together. Their courtship is fast paced and not without its roadblocks, these are, after all, two older people who bring a lifetime of baggage to the relationship. Unlike most romantic comedies in which happily-ever-after absolutes are woven into the story, these two are mature enough to know that their romance might not be forever. When she asks how their relationship will work, he says, in a refreshingly honest bit of romantic comedy dialogue “I have no idea.”
Hoffman has the schlep routine down pat but it is Emma Thompson who eats this movie like Pac Man. She’s better than the script, bringing an emotional honesty to a thinly written character.
Last Chance Harvey is a schmaltzy little movie, but is buoyed by the work of these two old pros who add considerable charm to the hackneyed proceedings.