Last Chance Harvey looks like it could be any number of movies from the outside — a romance, a drama, a missed opportunities bittersweet tale, or another Dying Young. It’s not, thank heavens, “just” any one of those things. If I were pitching it to a studio, I would probably say it’s a mature Before Sunrise but without all the stilted falseness. What I say to people who ask me, “what did you think of it?” I just say I loved it.
Harvey (Dustin Hoffman) is a hopeless mess of a person, out of phase with everyone around him, but not a cartoonish Peter Pan sort. He’s well-meaning, with that sense of not belonging particular to low self-esteem, and a talent for putting his foot in his mouth. Your heart embraces him without pause, even as he stumbles here or shoots himself in the foot there. This is due as much to writer/director Joel Hopkins’ terrific dialogue as to Hoffman’s understated performance. He’s not Michael Scott from The Office, he’s someone you probably know in your own life.
Kate (Emma Thompson) is an after-forty singleton whose life feels mired in a muddy sort of rut. She takes dozens of calls from her mother and has a job that requires little of her, and hides in her books. The film is named after Harvey, but Kate is an equal lead to Harvey — we know them so well before they even meet. Their awkwardness and loneliness express themselves in gentle, subtle ways — mature, as it were. Their coping strategies couldn’t be more different, but they complement each other nonetheless. Their meeting is an unlikely conversation, their acquaintance even more so. They have each passed a milestone after which all bets are off, so Harvey’s semi-oblivious tenacity mixed with Kate’s habitual resignation bring them new rewards they never expected. Is the age difference a problem? You cease to notice it — Kate acts so much older than she is, and Harvey so much younger, they just seem comfortably natural.
This movie does not at all describe well, I confess, but the dialogue is so delicately crafted, so very grounded, you’ll see what I mean when you go see it, which you should. Last Chance Harvey is a romance that feels like two separate stories about two people but that can only take place when they cross paths. My companion and I loved it. Meanwhile, Eileen Atkins as Kate’s mother breaks the tension with hilarious, near-wordless vignettes that are sweet and never outstay their welcome. I say tension, but it’s more a sense of waiting for the other shoe to drop, for one of the pair to sabotage themselves and create a new conflict or obstacle for them to overcome. Instead, the obstacles reveal themselves as they are being dealt with, and not before. A key scene has you squirming with worry and then bursting with emotion in a way you rarely get the luxury to enjoy anymore. Last Chance Harvey is a good date movie, but it’s not a girlie romance movie — it’s just very, very nice. It actually feels longer than it is, not because it drags, but because it packs so much in so neatly.
MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 1/16/09
Time in minutes 92
Director Joel Hopkins
Studio Overture Films