Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson are two of the best actors around today. Their pairing in Last Chance Harvey (2008)--if unexpected--is perfect. Their unlikely romance is kindled in London where he's visiting for his daughter's wedding.
Kate Walker (Thompson) works at Heathrow Airport (don't blink and miss a brief exchange between the pair in the beginning of the film, before they know each other), and is lonely and introverted. She lets her mother badger her with constant phone calls because she has no other close relationships, except a couple co-workers who are always trying to fix her up with guys.
Harvey Shine (Hoffman) is equally lonely. His dream of being a jazz pianist deferred, he's a self-described composer of jingles (for television commercials) being forced into retirement by the changing industry. The London trip is low on the priority scale. He and his daughter Susan (Liane Balaban) maintain a stilted relationship, and he feels slighted by his ex-wife (Kathy Baker) and her new husband (James Brolin), who has stepped up in many ways as Susan's more involved father figure (to the point that he's been asked to give her away, much to Harvey's chagrin).
It's in the midst of all these circumstances--be they self-imposed or the product of outside forces--that Harvey and Kate meet, at a bar. She's trying to read while he attempts small talk.
In the hands of less capable performances, Last Chance Harvey might have lapsed into the cliched. It's not an overly original tale. It's a character study--thus relying most importantly on strong acting, which it gets in stoves. You feel for both these lost souls, even if their plight is of their own doing. And there's a beautifully redemptive side to it all, something brought about by the relationship the two form over just a weekend. Set against the surprisingly romantic and appropriate London backdrop, Last Chance Harvey distinguishes itself as a poignant comedy for adults when most of today's movies fail to grasp things like the nuances of a character or the emotional importance of every line and facial expression, every passing glance, and every note.
Which leads me to my final note on the film, the lovely, piano-driven score by Dickon Hinchliffe. It perfectly accents the film both in its dramatic lows and its comedic highs. Written and directed by Joel Hopkins. ★★★