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3 reviews, 10 user ratings

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Last Chance Harvey
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by Jay Seaver

"Jump today."
4 stars

Looking at the seven-year gap in Joel Hopkins's filmography makes me glad that, as much as I like movies, I'm not trying to make them. After all, "Jump Tomorrow" had to have been considered something of a success for a rookie filmmaker: It won awards at festivals, made it to theaters, and the people who saw it generally liked it, describing the filmmaker as one to watch. So why no follow up until now? I can't say. Maybe Hopkins had writer's block; maybe things kept almost happening but falling through; maybe studios just didn't see him as a good risk. I don't know if I could take years of that, though I'm glad Hopkins did.

Last Chance Harvey isn't complicated; it introduces us to Harvey Shine (Dustine Hoffman) and Kate Walker (Emma Thompson) quickly: Harvey writes music for advertising in New York, Kate conducts surveys in London. They have a couple of near-misses when Harvey comes to London for his daughter's wedding, finally meeting in an airport bar after Harvey (who had left the wedding early because he was afraid for his job) misses his flight. Harvey is charmed by Kate's forthrightness, which is something she's not sure how to react to.

Like the story, Harvey and Kate are straightforward, but interesting individuals. Harvey, for instance, spends the first act suffering various indignities, from an anti-theft device being stuck to his suit to losing his job to the gut-punch of daughter Susan (Liane Balaban) saying that he wants her stepfather Brian (James Brolin) to give her away. Even before Harvey acknowledges it, we suspect he brought some of what's happening upon himself, he can be prickly and distant. Hoffman doesn't allow that to define him, though; there's an embarrassment to his grumpiness that says, yes, he recognizes that he's not doing the best he could, but he can't not be frustrated. The neat thing that Hoffman captures is that Harvey does not have to be the top dog, and in fact doesn't particularly seem like he wants to be, but he has a hard time finding the spots to be assertive and the line between being gracious and being treated badly. He likes strong women - he wouldn't have been attracted to Kathy Baker's Jean otherwise and he's perfectly comfortable letting Thompson's Kate tower over him.

Emma Thompson is a pleasure as well. In some ways, Kate is interesting for what she is not: She's not used to a man pursuing her, but she is also not down on herself for being single in her forties - in short, a woman who is far less concerned about her marital status than the people around her are. She's quite the likable character, smart and funny if also a little cautious when it really matters. She's not quite perfect - there's impatience with her mother (Eileen Atkins) - but Thompson does a really fantastic job of showing Kate get swept off her feet while still being very much Harvey's equal. That certainly doesn't diminish toward the end when she has to explicitly show a little more vulnerability, either.

Of course, that section at the end comes in part because of a plot "twist" that made the audience groan a little. It's a problem that threatens to rear its head earlier in the movie - Harvey and Kate are one near-miss short from this being a movie about destiny rather than actual romance. The thing is, the movie really doesn't need that sort of obstacle or complication - Harvey even grumbles about it being a needless nuisance - as we've come to enjoy the pair reacting to each other enough that we don't really need outside stimulae at this point to move the story forward; we trust the characters. Hopkins tended to push a little hard at times in Jump Tomorrow, too, so it's something to work on.

On the other hand, just having the movie play out like Before Sunset with more mature characters might be considered playing by the book as well, albeit a somewhat less common one. Last Chance Harvey is never quite going to be that - adults do have other factors that interfere with their lives. Both Harvey and Kate have plenty of interesting but not distracting supporting characters to keep it from being entirely a two-person show.

That two-person show is where the movie becomes more than an interesting idea well-explored, though. Watching Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson discover each other is a bit magical. That's worth a few awkward moments; not enough filmmakers are willing and able to be this romantically optimistic.

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originally posted: 01/19/09 09:13:53
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User Comments

6/15/14 Jamie One of my favorite films, just beautifully done 5 stars
3/08/13 David Hollingsworth An uncliched love story that really works. 5 stars
5/07/09 the dork knight Emma Thompson FTW! 4 stars
5/04/09 Steve D So so film; pretty good love story 3 stars
4/14/09 porfle Pretty good for this kind of film. 3 stars
3/02/09 Samantha Pruitt a really sweet movie, with great acting, you got to love Dusty! 4 stars
1/31/09 12 dogs and a blog This movie is like a really fine short story. A life time told within 24 hours. 4 stars
1/20/09 Matilda How you failed to appreciate STF is beyond me, but at least you got it right with LCH. 4 stars
1/17/09 Aesop If you'd miss these two actors together, you have no soul. 4 stars
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  25-Dec-2008 (PG-13)
  DVD: 05-May-2009


  DVD: 05-May-2009

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