“Are you trying to get me to buy you a new dress?”
It’s the little film that could, Joel Hopkins’ Last Chance Harvey. I remember it getting a limited run locally and then being surprised by Golden Globe nods for both leads, Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson. If the feel-good praise didn’t get me to want to check it out, the award accolades did; however, it’s not necessarily the type of film that I’d seek too ambitiously. But, when I had an hour to kill and Starz On Demand with a widescreen copy, I figured I could do a lot worse. The start was a bit off, very heavy-handed and kind of obvious, yet once the bottom falls out completely for Harvey and the inevitable meeting of he and Thompson’s Kate occurs, the film finds its voice and really excels as a result. It may be sleight, it may be overtly romantic, but it also resonates emotionally and shows how it’s never too late for redemption, love, or acceptance in oneself.
With a start that resembled another “father in turmoil” theme with Mrs. Doubtfire, we are introduced to Harvey Shine at work, seeing the technological advances in computerized tones taking over his craft at composing jingles. The job is a tenuous one at best with younger, cheaper, and inventive kids coming up behind him, and his daughter’s wedding in London doesn’t help matters, actually seeing his boss tell him to stay longer—basically confirming that the writing on the wall is true. His work has always come first, leading to a dissolved marriage and estrangement from his child, constantly on the phone as soon as he lands, attempting to solidify one last deal for the morning after the wedding back in the states. We see the awkwardness as he wanders through the rehearsal dinner seeing people he has never met—including the groom—and a family that has seen his wife’s new husband completely take over his role as father.
Intertwined with all of this, as Harvey is the true star of the film, is some background for the love interest still to enter his life. Kate Walker is middle-aged and single, watching over her bored mother during her free time or attending a writing class with mostly people much older than her. It’s not necessarily the life of someone actively seeking to find a man. She has gotten used to disappointment and almost expects and accepts it as the norm. Only when happiness seems to creep in does she start to feel nervous or anxious. We see it firsthand during a blind date setup from her airline coworker with a younger man, getting her hopes up that maybe he is interested in her only to watch as he meets some friends, invites them over to the table, and all but ignores poor Kate. She could cry and feel sorry for herself, but instead decides to move on and go back to her life of work, literature, and constant calls from her mother—who, by the way, is really a treat, played by Eileen Atkins, spying on her Polish neighbor whom she thinks is a serial killer.
And then comes the chance meeting—after two failed ones—in a coffee shop after both have been driven to the lowest points of their lives. After comparing sob stories and cracking a smile from the other, they continue to walk and spend the day together, brightening spirits and pushing the sorrows away. When Kate tells Harvey he has to go to his daughter’s reception, after not planning on going to make a flight he missed earlier, the story truly picks up to become a very sweet and soulful tale. They get ready and rush over to the banquet hall, once a fun dress hunt montage completes, adding some trepidation about whether Harvey will be the embarrassment he has been known for or the father he has always wanted to be. It is a heartfelt sequence that makes the somewhat boring events of the night before relevant. I remember thinking how much more enjoyable Thompson and Hoffman together was compared to them apart in mundane situations that went nowhere, but attending the reception shows how exposition sometimes is necessary for success. Even James Brolin as the stepfather shows some nice emotional range, adding humanity to the “villain” Harvey has always seen him as. It really is a very memorable, in a genuine way, wedding night of family and fun.
Thankfully, though, it doesn’t all end there; we do have to see the relationship of our older, star-struck couple through. Contrivances mount and it appears as though perhaps their love is not meant to be. It is not for lack of trying on Hoffman’s part, surprisingly since he has always been known to put himself first, ruining any relationship he has ever had. But something about the British frankness of Thompson has refreshed his fervor for life and love, making him not only be his best, but also do his best to find her again. I guess one could say that the fact of this itself is selfish, trying to make him happy, but the script isn’t looking to be studied that hard, it’s only attempting to put a smile on the audience’s faces, warming their hearts and instilling hope for all that good things do happen in this world, whether planned or by chance. And it really does the job, starting and ending with these two leads at the center, deserving of all the praise showered upon them. It may not be the best film ever made, or exceptional throughout its rather short runtime, but it is a solid tale that affected me emotionally and succeeded in what it set out to do.
Last Chance Harvey 7/10 | ★ ★ ★
 (Left to right.) Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson star in Overture Films’ LAST CHANCE HARVEY. © 2008 Overture Films, LLC All Rights Reserved. Photo Credit: Laurie Sparham
 (Left to right.) Dustin Hoffman and Liane Balaban star in Overture Films’ LAST CHANCE HARVEY. © 2008 Overture Films, LLC All Rights Reserved. Photo Credit: Laurie Sparham