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Harvey Shine is in London for the weekend for his daughter's wedding. His work in New York preoccupies him: he writes music for ads, and he knows his boss is pushing him aside for younger talent. With family he's also on the sidelines - long divorced, his wife remarried, her husband closer to his daughter than he. His path crosses that of Kate Walker, unmarried, her life becoming that of a spinster, set up by friends on blind dates leading nowhere. After Harvey's no good terrible day, he chats Kate up at a Heathrow bar. She's not interested. Where can this conversation lead? Back at his daughter's reception, the step-father rises to give a toast. Written by
On the face of it Last Chance Harvey, helmed by the virtually unknown English director Joel Hopkins, is a mere piece of frippery, a little tale of a chance encounter in an airport between a man and woman of a certain age on the rebound from disappointment, something we've seen dozens of times. But the masterful acting of Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman, and the restraint of a script that could be maudlin or cutesy but never is, make the film not only entertaining and watchable but even touched by moments of grace.
Harvey Shine (Hoffman) is a composer of TV jingles who may be out of work. When he goes London to attend his daughter's wedding, he learns she has chosen her stepfather, Brian, to give her away. Amid these humiliations Harvey runs into Kate Walker (Thompson), who works doing surveys of passengers passing through Heathrow.
Thompson is playing an old maid saddled with a mother (the great Aileen Atkins) worried about her "situation" and also suspicious of a Polish neighbor she thinks may be a new Jack the Ripper. She calls all the time. Harvey keeps getting calls from his New York agent, but they're never encouraging. This cell phone shtick is unoriginal wallpaper. None of the developments is thought provoking or surprising. But the film avoids pushing too hard and thus gains credibility, at least in the personalities. Liane Balaban, as Susan, Harvey's daughter and the bride, has a credible restraint and sweetness. She is decent to Harvey, even as she has cooperated in his virtual exclusion from her marriage celebration. Kathy Baker plays Jean, Harvey's ex-wife, with poise and elegance.
At the center is Hoffman. He never plays for bathos. He woos Kate with delicate humor. His sense of defeat is only partial. This may be his "last chance" both to be a presence at his daughter's nuptials and to find a woman who will care about him, but though the screenplay puts him out on a limb, it doesn't coat him in desperation. He takes taxis everywhere, and stays at a nice hotel. He conveys an aura of quiet pluck. His little smiles are never forced; he's good humored. Beyond that, Hoffman has moments of stillness more beautiful than any actor's fussy line readings.
I guess you could call this a bittersweet comedy. Despite a scene that verges on the maudlin when Harvey speaks at the wedding reception, the film's skill is in the way it averts all disasters. The adeptness with which the two principals stay away from ever pushing too hard is the essence of good film acting. Last Chance Harvey may not make a deep impression but that slight memory it leaves behind is a good one. It will do to while away an afternoon. With Dustin and Emma, one is in good hands. _________________
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