Film review – Last Chance Harvey (2008)

Harvey Shine (Dustin Hoffman) and Kate Walker (Emma Thompson)
Harvey Shine (Dustin Hoffman) and Kate Walker (Emma Thompson)

Although they only had a few scenes together in Marc Forster’s wonderful Stranger Than Fiction, actors Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson established such a strong chemistry that they knew they had to do another film together.  When up-and-coming writer/director Joel Hopkins began discussing the idea of doing a love story starring Thompson, she recognised that this project was the ideal opportunity for her and Hoffman to work together again. The resulting film is Last Chance Harvey, a light romance set in London between local woman Kate Walker (Thompson) and an American man, Harvey Shine (Hoffman), who is in London to attend his daughter’s wedding. It turns out that Hoffman and Thompson really do have incredible onscreen chemistry as the dynamic they share in Last Chance Harvey is absolutely gorgeous.

Part of what makes Last Chance Harvey so likeable is that Kate and Harvey are such recognisable characters. Kate feels overly responsible for her emotionally needy mother and despite being lonely is very reluctant to go through with her friends’ attempts to set her up. Harvey is a workaholic, estranged from his daughter and ex-wife, and a bit socially awkward. They are both characters tinged with enough sadness to make them endearing but not so much so that it is overwhelming. By the time they finally meet, you are dying for them to connect with each other.

df-00827crHopkins seems to have a genuine fondness and respect for the romance genre as he handles this material with a sentimental sincerity that is refreshingly free of irony and cynicism. When Harvey and Kate first meet their conversation mimics the witty one-upmanship dialogue of a classical Hollywood screwball comedy, where the couple begin at each other’s throats before inevitably falling in love. Hopkins also throws in a nice allusion to the classic 1957 Cary Grant/ Deborah Kerr romantic An Affair to Remember. However Last Chance Harvey is neither a screwball comedy nor does it delve into the melodramatic excesses of An Affair to Remember. It is a aimed at an audience who are open to being moved without feeling manipulated.

Last Chance Harvey also beautifully captures London in a way not seen before. Hopkins portrays London’s grey, misty streets in a way that makes you feel as if you had just been up all night and are seeing a familiar environment the next morning in a way that you had never seen it before. In many ways, this reflects the entire sensation of watching Last Chance Harvey – we’ve seen countless romances on screen but when actors of the calibre of Thompson and Hoffman play the couple, it makes the genre feel renewed. When the final credits begin to roll, you just don’t want the film to end. Kate and Harvey are such wonderful characters to be in the company of making Last Chance Harvey the most enjoyable romance in many years.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2009

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