“Cantankerous I’ve never been”
Joel Hopkins’ The Love Punch was a film that worked far better than one might have expected, a lovely surprise in the cinema back in 2014, so I’ve been looking forward to catching up with his earlier 2008 movie Last Chance Harvey. And once again I was caught unawares, even as I knew that I would probably like it, I had no idea I would love it so completely.
Dustin Hoffman’s Harvey is a washed-up US jingle-writer, finding himself on the fringes of his daughter’s London wedding in place of a beloved stepfather; Emma Thompson’s Kate has found life has passed her by, still single and struggling with an overbearing mother. That the two will end up together somehow is never in doubt but the joy of Hopkins’ film is in making the journey so beautifully, emotionally real.
A real note of melancholy underscores the whole affair, deeply naturalistic (and part-improvised) performances from both Hoffman and Thompson making the case for normal people and their normal lives full of fuck-ups to be allowed to dream too. There’s a simplicity to the film that just lets it breathe, and sigh, and breathe again as the disappointments of Harvey and Kate’s lives are laid bare, with the promise of potential pulling them through.
There’s an excellent calibre of supporting cast around them too, who all do excellent work. Eileen Atkins plays Kate’s mother with a lovely liveliness; Kathy Baker is beyond excellent as Harvey’s ex-wife, one particular look she gives at a dinner deserves awards alone; and Liane Balaban as the estranged daughter Susan is also impressive, negotiating the impossible when it comes to weddings and divorced parents with unaffected but hugely affecting grace.
There’s a ton of fun theatrical spots too – Adam James’ best man, Bronagh Gallagher’s mouthy best friend, Patrick Baladi’s blind date (we should all be so lucky!), Jamie Sives, Charlotte Lucas, even the South Bank in front of the National Theatre! But it’s the quiet confidence of Hopkins’ writing and direction, plus the extraordinary efforts of Thompson and Hoffman, that shine here, in a simply beautiful film.