Different Ways to Say Niceby Libby Allen / 30.09.2009
It’s difficult to dissect a film which inspires little more than the Biggie Best equivalent of adjectives. Sweet, nice, fine, yes. Last Chance Harvey is just that: nice. It’s a nice film. Swell. It’s a film fit for MNet back in the golden days of MNet’s eleven o’clock movies, which were a bonanza of sweet and swell things. This is what When Harry Met Sally would have become if Harry and Sally grew older and lost their chemistry and wit.
But this isn’t entirely fair to say, and the damning response to Last Chance Harvey hasn’t, for the most part, been entirely fair – and that’s because the film makes its primary mistake in its casting. To involve such seasoned and strong performers, Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman, as its romantic leads is to confuse the genre; to make us think that the film is more than it is. So we are left with what feels almost slightly embarrassing because the cast is greater than the piece and tend to waddle around inside it, showing up directorial and writerly incompetencies which we would otherwise forgive if we were watching, oh I don’t know, Treat Williams and Sally Field.
So Hoffman is Harvey and Thompson, Kate. Harvey writes jingles and his career is flailing. Kate conducts airport surveys and is hurtling toward being an insecure spinster. Harvey meets Kate, Kate steals glances, things happen, yada yada, they walk the South Bank, up and down, up again, inconsequential sub-plot involving a Polish neighbour and bride-to-be, heart attack, seventeen near misses, more nice things, the end.
What the film attempts is a story of ‘late love’, where the protagonists are not quite so pretty and their stories are made heavier by time and experience. Simultaneously, while all the late love blooms, director Joel Hopkins tries to construct a third character – the city itself, making London a point of affection, anthropomorphising it like Woody Allen’s Manhattan. It just doesn’t work. It’s all too watered down, too vague, too satisfied with average. Nice.
This feels cruel, like laughing at a toddler attempting to walk. Well I’ve done that and I’ll do this, too. Here’s a Sunday movie to watch with mum, if you’re into that kind of thing. By no means a showcase for any one element, or, if so, it is a film which plays vehicle to Hoffman’s sugar-sweet and Thompson’s frumpish-fragile. Expect nothing more and you’ll leave with nice.