Sometimes all we really want from a movie is to spend some time with beloved actors. When I heard about Last Chance Harvey, a film starring the peerless Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson, I knew that my odds were good of having a good time. Written and directed by Joel Hopkins (whose last film was 2001’s well-regarded Jump Tomorrow), Last Chance Harvey turns out to be pat and cutesy, but did I mention it stars Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson?
Hoffman plays the title character, Harvey Shine, a composer of jingles who’s facing an unplanned retirement and being the unwelcome guest at his daughter’s wedding. Thompson’s Kate Walker, who works in airline customer service, leads a lonely and awkward social life. When Harvey flies to London for the wedding, he encounters Kate, and the two discover they have something to offer each other. Their seriocomic romance comes complete with a rush to the airport to seal the deal, but did I mention it stars Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson?
Hopkins wrote Kate with friend Thompson in mind, but the endearingly hands-on Hoffman let Hopkins get to know him to inspire some Hoffman-appropriate rewrites (as Hoffman once said of his craft, "Acting is hard enough, why make up what you don’t have to make up?"). So like Hoffman, Shine is a closet aspiring jazz pianist (who plays Hoffman's own composition, "Shoot the Breeze," under the opening titles). Told by his all-business boss (Richard Schiff) "There are no more chances, Harvey," Shine nervously sets off for what's meant to be an in-and-out trip for the London wedding of his daughter Susan (Liane Balaban). Harvey shows up in a white linen suit (security tag still attached) and proceeds to alienate everyone at the rehearsal dinner. The coup de grace: Susan would prefer her smooth stepfather (James Brolin) to give her away.
Harvey slinks off and determines he'll grab the next plane home rather than shame himself at the wedding. That's when he reconnects, in an airport bar, with the customer service associate he blew off when he landed: Kate. Emotionally and physically crowded by her mum (Eileen Atkins)—who gets her own cheesy romantic subplot with a Polish neighbor—Kate can't seem to connect with most men, and her most recent blind-date train wreck is still on her mind ("I think that I'm more comfortable with being disappointed," she confesses). But Harvey, a man with little left to lose, is able to break down her defenses. He's from White Plains and she's from Wilton Green, but both are creative types with a spark of wit.
Harvey: I love it. You cut right through it.
Kate: I'll take that as a compliment.
Harvey: You should.
Together, the two agree to take some lost time and stroll about London. Inevitably, the pair wind up at Susan's wedding, where Hoffman nails a funny-sad wedding-toast monologue. Thompson gets her own aria, a neurotic jag about failed relationships, and these are the moments that sell the picture: try not to smile as these two individually and communally shine. Kate says what we're all thinking when she describes the "you make me feel so young" romance as "not real life," but Hoffman has the right answer: "It is...it is for me." If you're willing to suspend disbelief (and why not? The 70-year-old Hoffman and 48-year-old Thompson do so much of the work for you...), Last Chance Harvey can be a vacation from day-to-day doldrums. And one more thing: did I mention it stars Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson?
Last Chance Harvey comes to Blu-ray (and DVD, in a mirrored release) in a pristine hi-def transfer. The film looks just as inviting as it did on the big screen: the Blu-ray offers nice detail and accurate and pleasing color, with nary a digital blemish to be found; plus, the film gets an overqualified Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack that handily presents every nuance of the original soundtrack.
Fans of the film get a few bonus features. I can think of no better extra than allowing the filmmaker and two stars to talk at length, which is exactly what the feature-length audio commentary with writer/director Joel Hopkins, Dustin Hoffman, and Emma Thompson enables. These are eminently charming and intelligent talents, and the track is a warm, funny, and informative one (though take note: Hoffman was recorded separately).
"An Unconventional Love Story: The Making of Last Chance Harvey" (16:29, HD) offers behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with Hopkins, Hoffman, Thompson, Dame Eileen Atkins, Kathy Baker, and James Brolin.
Finally, we get the film's "Theatrical Trailer" (2:32, HD). Fans of Hoffman and Thompson (and who aren't?) will find much to enjoy on this well-authored disc.
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