If you've ever felt alone in a crowd or kind of passed over by life, you'll find a kinship with Harvey Shine (Dustin Hoffman) and Kate Walker (Emma Thompson). It's these feelings that give them a tentative kinship with each other when they first connect in an airport bar halfway through the film. It's not the typical meet-cute of a rom-com; it's more of a "meet-snarky." But before they meet, life has to kick them around a bit first …
Harvey is a divorcee in New York City who writes scores and jingles for commercials. But the industry is going digital and his creativity and composition skills are getting phased out. Before he leaves for London for his semi-estranged daughter's wedding, his boss (Richard Schiff) tells him he has one more chance to deliver the goods.
When Harvey arrives in London, he learns that the rest of the wedding party is staying in a rented house, while he's in a generic hotel … alone. And his daughter (Liane Balaban) has chosen to have her stepfather walk her down the aisle. In the midst of all this drama, Harvey is on his cell phone desperately trying to save his job back home.
Harvey skips the wedding reception to fly home in time for a Monday meeting. But he misses that flight, and when he calls to alert his office, he discovers all his effort has been for nothinghe's been canned. So he meanders into the airport bar to drown his desperation.
Kate is a single Londoner who works for the Office of National Statistics, a dead-end job that has her trying to survey wearyand sometimes surlytravelers at the airport. She is dogged by seemingly non-stop phone calls from her mother (Eileen Watkins), who lives alone and is convinced her next-door neighbor is a serial killer.
One day Kate reluctantly agrees to a blind date set up by one of her coworkers. But just when the pair is finally passing the awkward pleasantries stage of their evening, he runs into a group of friends, who decide to join Kate and Date. Feeling like an outsider on her own dateand in some ways, in her own lifeKate cuts out early.
She retreats to her non-descript life of boring work, endless cell phone calls from her neurotic mother, and occasional breaks in the airport bar to read a novel and sip a nice glass of chardonnay. Until a strange American man wanders in one day and awkwardly strikes up a conversation.
The rest of the film shows the way these two hurting souls heal, revive, and disappoint each otherand how this interrupts their individual trajectories of boredom and desperation.
Most of the magic of Last Chance Harvey is the beautifullyand painfullyrelatable way it depicts human emotion, including a few lovely scenes that capture Harvey and Kate's desperation. For example: After all he's been through to get to London, even though he knows he's walking into an awkward situation with his ex (Kathy Baker) and their daughter, Harvey struggles with the blinds in his hotel room. Though we only see him from behind in this scene, we can read and feel Harvey's frustration simply through the body language. In this small moment, the scriptwriters highlight the fact that it's not always the high drama that sets us off as much as the way life sometimes inserts an exclamation point at the end of that drama.
Of course, these small-but-powerful moments wouldn't be successful without the expert acting of Hoffman and Thompson, who both earned Golden Globe nominations for their performances here. And rightfully so. They let the small moments and the subtleties be, they deliver dialogue as if they've known the other characters for decades, they speak volumes with facial expressions and body language. They're not afraid to look frumpy and patheticand not the Hollywood version of frumpy and pathetic, which often is inexplicably still gorgeous. As they tromp around London in their baggy overcoats and their palpable mixture of fear and hope at the prospect of a new relationship, we're treated to something often missing in the movies: a relatably messy, mundane, maddening, and magnificent romance.
And along the way, we're treated to a local's tour of the area, giving us a nice peek at the neighborhood flavor. As Harvey and Kate's first outing stretches on and on, the film starts to feel a bit like Before Sunrise, albeit the jilted boomer version. As they meander, we're treated to delightfully realistic dialogue. We get to watch the romance unfold, the chemistry start to smolder.
Some of the most moving dialogue involves Harvey and Kate's regrets in life. He speaks of his divorce and estranged relationship with his daughter; she speaks of her long-ago abortion. Both speak with the clarity and perspective that time brings. Both talk about dreams that haven't yetand may nevercome to fruition. And Kate offers searing insight into the fears of trusting again when you've been disappointed and hurt too much in past relationships. This is certainly a grown-up, mid-life romance.
But it's also a movie romance: There's a clichéd plot twist toward the end that's somewhat disappointing, though it does get resolved well. And as we see the way even the faintest hint of hope and love can offer a lifeline to a drowning soul, some of the life-changing toward the end of the film might be a tad overdone. But because it's a movie romance, we, the audience, want the characters to help us escape the boredom or nonexistence of our own lives, to help us appreciate the real-life people we love, and simply to sigh dreamily while the closing credits roll.
Last Chance Harvey provides all that plus relatable emotion, endearing comedy, and stellar acting. What's not to love about all that?Discussion starters
- How would you describe Harvey and Kate's state of mind when they meet? What are they drawn to in each other?
- Both Harvey and Kate have strained relationships with key family members (Harvey with his daughter, Kate with her mom). How do each of them handle this relationship? What strides are made in each relationship throughout the filmand what precipitates that growth?
- At one point, Kate says she's more comfortable being disappointed by others. Why do you think that's so? Have you ever felt that way?
- What is Harvey's motivation for making a toast during the wedding reception? What does it accomplish for him, for his daughter, for others?
- If we could catch up with Harvey and Kate one year later, what do you think their lives would look like?
The Family CornerFor parents to consider
Last Chance Harvey is rated PG-13 for brief strong language, but most of the flick is pretty tame. Still, it's a grownups' movie, with adults in dialogue throughout most of the film. Young kids would be bored, and it'd take a pretty grown-up teenager to appreciate the romance, since it's not the young, starry-eyed, meet-cute version. It is nice that the film shows the consequences of divorce and abortion, and the characters who've done these things talk about their regrets. These plot lines could prove good conversation starters about these topics.
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