Friday, January 23, 2009

Reel Thoughts: When Dustin Met Emma

Not unlike comfort food, some movies are comfort films. They star impeccable actors who give rich and satisfying performances, and the whole thing seems intended to do nothing more than entertain you and give you a nice warm feeling. Last Chance Harvey is a perfect example — it’s sweet and fun while it lasts, with charming work from Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman as two lonely people who meet in London and bond. It’s a brief encounter that takes both of them out of their painful lives, and the only conflict is whether or not they’ll be able to make more of the relationship.

Harvey Shine (Hoffman) is a composer of ad jingles who is about to be fired, and Kate Walker (Thompson) is an airport survey-taker who has no talent with men. Harvey is in London to see his daughter get married, but he finds that her stepfather (James Brolin) is going to give her away. Kate has been on one too many blind dates with men who aren’t worthy of her.

Kate and Harvey don’t hit it off well at first, but a chance second meeting in the airport bar sparks an attraction that leads to a nice afternoon together. Fates conspire to spoil their happiness, but come on! This is Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman! Who could resist either one of them?

Writer/director Joel Hopkins does a fine job creating enough tartness and confrontation to keep the film from being saccharine or maudlin. And while we’ve seen Hoffman do this guy before — he’s basically an older Ted Kramer (of vs. Kramer fame), Thompson gives an exquisite performance as an older woman who has given up on love and who uses wit and sarcasm to keep people at bay.

Like most good comfort food, Last Chance Harvey is immensely old-fashioned, but then again, that’s its biggest asset.

UPDATE: Last Chance Harvey is now available on DVD and Blu-rayfrom

Review by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.

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