Joel Hopkins’s Last Chance Harvey is a modern romantic comedy which caters for an adult audience sadly ignored in modern cinema. Dustin Hoffman plays Harvey Shine, a disenchanted jingle writer who finds love with the equally lonely Katie Walker (Emma Thompson). Notwithstanding the predictable plot directions expected from such a film, it is saved by the acting skill of its two Golden Globe-nominated protagonists.
Unlike the recent rom-coms gracing our screens of late, Last Chance Harvey deals sensitively with the genuine trials of living and growing old – the loneliness, the disenchantment, and those bad, bad dance-moves. It seems to me just a little bit radical to have a woman in her late forties playing a romantic lead, something Emma Thompson acknowledges in a blog post about her role in the film: “I was not required to be stunningly attractive or in despair or in need of rescue, but simply [to be] an ordinary woman in her forties living a rather stale-looking life as best she can”. What seems like a popular topic in contemporary cinema -that is, the danger of living a stale, emotionless life- is portrayed in a sensitive, though not necessarily radical way. Unlike Revolutionary Road, for example, Last Chance Harvey never sags, and confidently rides on the dialogue between the characters.
This is not to say that the movie is free from cringe-worthy or hackneyed moments. Dustin Hoffman’s dance moves at the wedding (“I’m gonna dance your socks off”) fills me with as much embarrassment as watching my own Dad pull some shapes at social occasions. The romantic clichés in the film, and there are many – the mad final dash from the airport to find said lover included – fail to add any depth to the film. By going in for the cliché, the film misses the opportunity to delve into a deeper, more interesting angle to the character’s motives for getting together, including the possibility, dare I say it, of desperation. The emotional effect of Kate’s past abortion, for example, is a subject only touched upon.
Last Chance Harvey is, more than anything, a love poem to London. The city, like the characters, slowly unveils before our eyes as we follow their conversations along the river Thames. One particularly scene involving a live performance on the South Bank by the contemporary rockabilly band Kitty, Daisy and Lewis, is truly charming. So too is the gentle humour that pervades the film, such as the minor sub-plot concerning Kate’s lonely mother and her next door neighbour, whom she fears is “Poland’s answer to Jack The Ripper”.
If the genre of ‘middle-aged-rom-com’ exists, then Last Chance Harvey surely fits into this category. However, to do this would be to pigeon-hole the film, and this is precisely the problem with the rom-com label. The rom-com suffers from a lot of prejudice, which, to be fair, is mostly justified. Last Chance Harvey is a genuinely entertaining film, with lively dialogue and believable characters. To be honest, I’d rather watch movies like this than the sheer quantity of unrealistic, often downright degrading rom-coms like He’s Just Not That Into You. Last Chance Harvey deserves to be given a chance, if not just for entertainment, but for the type of film-making it represents. You don’t have to be menopausal to enjoy this, but it helps.