With his bittersweet romantic comedy Last Chance Harvey, writer/director Joel Hopkins takes the famous line from Casablanca -- about the problems of two people not amounting to a hill of beans -- deeply to heart. Dustin Hoffman plays Harvey, a jingle writer, who flies to London for his estranged daughter's wedding just as he learns he will lose his job if he doesn't secure a big account. He's a nebbish, but he's so full of seething anger that he often lashes out at people with sarcastic verbal jabs that he invariably apologizes for, usually right after they leave his lips. One of his first victims after he lands in the U.K. is a customer service airline rep named Kate Walker (Emma Thompson) who wants him to fill out a questionnaire. Because he's so keyed up to see his daughter, he blows Kate off with a terse "I'm tired." However, Harvey's dreams are crushed when he learns that he's staying in a different hotel than the wedding party, and when, during the rehearsal dinner, his daughter tells him that she wants her stepfather to give her away during the ceremony. While that disastrous evening transpires, Kate goes on a terrible blind date that ends when the guy runs into some friends and decides he'd much rather hang out with them. The next day, these two lonely souls meet again in an airport lounge. Bolstered by a stiff drink, he's eager to complain about his awful life, and, because she feels sympathy for his sad story, she listens. And thus begins the possibility of second chances for both of them.
This is the kind of movie that lives or dies on the acting -- there's nothing new about the script, although it's a solid piece of writing, and the camerawork never calls attention to itself. Everything about the movie exists so that audiences can focus on the main characters' emotions, and Hoffman and Thompson are both such gifted naturalists that this very simple story goes down smoothly. The two of them are a great match -- her British reserve soothes his barely contained nervous energy, while his truthfulness opens her up. Sure, you could accuse the material of being remarkably insubstantial, especially for actors of this caliber, but if you take no pleasure from watching this pair of gifted performers work together, then you wouldn't be drawn to a movie like this in the first place. If the film were pitched at a higher level of intensity -- if it promised great drama or riotous laughter -- then it would be an epic disappointment. But, because it remains steadfastly modest, Last Chance Harvey has enough low-key charm to satisfy.
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- Released: 2008
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: With his bittersweet romantic comedy Last Chance Harvey, writer/director Joel Hopkins takes the famous line from Casablanca -- about the problems of two people not amounting to a hill of beans -- deeply to heart. Dustin Hoffman plays Harvey, a jingle write… (more)