Back in 1967, Dustin Hoffman made an indelible impression on cinematic history by crashing a certain wedding in The Graduate. Roughly 42 years later, Hoffman finds himself in a similar matrimonial milieu in Last Chance Harvey. A lot has changed in those 40-odd years, and Last Chance Harvey wisely exploits Hoffman’s well-aged persona.
Here, Hoffman is Harvey Shine, a rumpled schlimazel (as opposed to an all-out schlemiel) who dreamed of becoming a jazz pianist and ended up writing jingles for laundry detergent. On the verge of losing his last remaining client (and, subsequently, his job) at the ad agency where he works, Harvey is called to London to attend his daughter’s wedding. As the ceremony looms, it becomes apparent just how much of a hard-luck case old Harvey really is. Not only has his ex-wife (Kathy Baker) remarried a wealthy, sophisticated man (James Brolin), his daughter has chosen her stepfather to walk her down the aisle. This leaves poor Harvey with nothing to do other than stand around and look foolish in his newly purchased suit—a third wheel at his own daughter’s nuptials.
Deciding discretion is the better part of valor, Harvey heads back to Heathrow before the reception begins. A tardy arrival, however, strands Harvey in London for another 24 hours. While nursing his wounds in an airport coffee shop, he crosses paths with Kate Walker (Emma Thompson), a sad-eyed statistician who works for the airlines. As viewers, we’ve been waiting for this hookup for some time. Kate and Harvey have crossed paths several times—so far, never quite meeting each other’s gaze. We know, having followed Kate to her overly needy mother’s house and on a disastrous blind date, that she’s the unhappy spinster equivalent to Harvey’s unlucky bachelor. Hey, if Generation X can prolong its childhood, why can’t the Baby Boomers delay their midlife crises until at least 50?
On a whim, Harvey invites Kate to his daughter’s wedding reception. What ensues is a day-long session of wandering, talking, flirting and getting to know one another on the streets of London—a post-middle-aged version of those “long meet” romances like Before Sunrise, Lost in Translation or Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist.
Hoffman and Thompson are well-matched, personality-wise, and their often-improvised interactions simmer with a genial chemistry. Writer/director Joel Hopkins (Jump Tomorrow) manufactures a convenient bit of melodrama to keep the minimal storyline moving—adding perhaps 10 minutes to the film’s brief runtime. Given how minor the incident is, however, it’s perfectly forgivable. Generally speaking, Hopkins has the good sense to just get out of the way of his stars and let them shine.
Last Chance Harvey doesn’t achieve any great heights, nor does it aspire to them. It’s an unhurried, uncomplicated, eminently likable meet-and-greet romance about two lonely people trying not to let their bitterness get in the way of actually connecting with one another. Sure, the story arc is a predictable one, but the joy here is simply in watching two people interact like intelligent human beings. That alone qualifies as a treat in today’s lowest-common-denominator movie industry.