Although I bought it years ago, I will never forget the weak smile and comment the cashier made to me when purchasing Last Chance Harvey on Blu-Ray. “Filling the shelves out?”. Certainly. Fifty British pennies do not take you far in this life, not anymore. What other reason would I be compelled to purchase a romantic comedy from the late 2000s for? Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson certainly spurred some recollection of quality. Their inclusion as titular Harvey and love interest Kate sparks the same reaction I received when I visited Alnwick Castle and watched a troupe of Harry Potter fans conduct broomstick training. Recoiling horror at the event, but immediate interest in discovering why it was happening, for I knew the source material.
For Hoffman, Last Chance Harvey happens as a denotation of entering the twilight years. He is no longer the strapping young hero, nor even the intimate or forbidden lover. He is now the ageing man with no luck until stumbling across someone who is ten years his junior. In comes Thompson, who has at least clung to her British charm and on-screen delight. It is quintessentially safe, and there is room for a safe film pushed forth by strong actors. Last Chance Harvey relies a tad too often on the familiar nuances and dated stylings. Pints for the fellas, white wine for the women. A clothing mishap for the man looking to impress, a security tag still secured tightly to his blazer sleeve. With a slight explanation, this could be contained and finished, but here it is played up, stretched to its limit like the many other jokes that linger for a little too long.
But the jokes are tertiary, while the initial run-in and fondness found between leading characters is inevitable. “He’s a big, strong, confident, gorgeous fella” says one support character to Kate, setting them her up on another doomed date. That is all that could be wanted from love. To the credit of Last Chance Harvey, Harvey Shine is none of those things. He was, presumably, at one point, but Father Time has taken his strength, his looks and his confidence. Now timid, struggling to recapture his spark, he is sent to London to enjoy his daughter’s wedding and, presumably, reassess his values.
But it is hard to enjoy a wedding when your daughter is distant and your ex-wife has accommodated everyone but you. Those cracks begin to show for Harvey, and Hoffman sells them as well as he can. He stutters awkwardly, as well as he did in The Graduate but with an elderly tint to him. His lonely, puppy dog eyes are an incredible tool. It is rare to see Hoffman in a bumbling role, but he slips on miniature pebbles at those moments where showing yourself up in an act of minor embarrassment. It will hit home harder when it’s in front of your ex-wife and her friends. But Hoffman has one major flaw, and it is one that we as an audience cannot be expected to overlook. He is meant to be struggling in his career and in life, but his phone never stops and his daughter is trying her best to reciprocate love.
Love is not reciprocated by anyone in this film, especially not between Thompson and Hoffman. They are fine on their lonesome, struggling with their problems and toiling away in the mines of mismanaged lifestyles. Their first dialogue-heavy encounter is stifled, awkward and charmless. Hoffman is insistent on conversing with her, apologising profusely as he insults her. Somewhere, somehow, a switch clicks, and Thompson turns from icy and bored to engaged and interested. Something is lost in the middle, and the patchwork job the comedy and light-heartedness provided is not quite enough to veil the clunky mechanics.
Joel Hopkins kickstarts his trend of two ageing starlets looking for love with Last Chance Harvey, and I doubt he improved all that much upon this niche with The Love Punch or Hampstead. While it is indeed the last chance for this eponymous character, it is the first of many for Hopkins. He must find his voice, and do it soon, for fear of propagating the same story with only minor changes to the bells and whistles. These two leads are hurt often and frequently. Love cannot heal those wounds. In fact, love has nothing to do with the pain that either character finds themselves struggling with. Had Hopkins discovered this sooner, Last Chance Harvey would have had a chance.