Last Chance Harvey
|Last Chance Harvey|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Joel Hopkins|
|Produced by||Tim Perell
|Written by||Joel Hopkins|
|Music by||Dickon Hinchliffe|
|Cinematography||John de Borman|
|Edited by||Robin Sales|
|Distributed by||Overture Films|
Last Chance Harvey is a 2008 British-American romantic drama film written and directed by Joel Hopkins. The screenplay focuses on two lonely people who tentatively forge a relationship over the course of three days. Dustin Hoffman plays an American composer who loses his job and his position of father of the bride in the course of a single day overseas while Emma Thompson plays an airport worker with a jaundiced view of relationships.
Divorced American Harvey Shine writes jingles for television commercials, a job not in keeping with his one-time aspiration to be a jazz composer and pianist. His position at work is tenuous as he departs for London to attend his daughter Susan's wedding. Upon arrival at Heathrow Airport, he encounters Kate Walker, a single Londoner who collects statistics from passengers as they pass through the terminals. Tired and anxious to get to his hotel, Harvey brusquely dismisses her when she approaches him to ask questions.
Harvey is upset to discover his ex-wife Jean rented a house to accommodate family and friends from the States but failed to include him. At the rehearsal dinner on the night preceding the wedding, it becomes increasingly clear Harvey is systematically being excluded from the clan around his ex-wife's new husband Brian and is treated as a mere guest. They fake their politeness towards him and make him feel embarrassed and uncomfortable. When Harvey tells Susan, with whom he has shared a strained relationship since his divorce, that he will be attending the ceremony but not the subsequent reception because he needs to return to the States for an important meeting, she informs him she has asked her stepfather Brian to give her away.
Meanwhile, Kate is on a blind date that is not going well. When she returns to the table after taking yet another call from her neurotic mother Maggie, who is certain her Polish neighbor is burying bodies in a shed in his yard, she discovers her date has invited friends to join them. Feeling unwanted and excluded from the conversation, she eventually excuses herself and goes home.
The following morning Harvey attends the wedding but quickly leaves for the airport without congratulating the married couple. But due to heavy traffic delays he misses his flight at Heathrow. When he calls his boss Marvin to advise him he will be returning a day later than planned, he is fired. Determined to drown his sorrows, Harvey goes to an airport bar and sees Kate. Recognizing her from the day before, he apologizes for his rude behavior. She initially resists the attention he is paying her but soon they're both glad to finally have an honest conversation about what they're feeling and thinking.
Harvey follows Kate to the Heathrow Express and, upon arrival at Paddington station, asks if he can walk her to her writing class on the South Bank. She accepts his offer and is pleased when he offers to meet her after class. As they stroll along the River Thames, Harvey mentions he is missing Susan's wedding reception, and Kate urges him to go. He finally relents, but only if she will accompany him. When Kate insists she is not properly dressed for such an occasion, Harvey buys her a dress and the two head to the Grosvenor House Hotel, where they are welcomed coolly by Susan and get two places at the children's table. When the father of the bride is called upon to make a toast, Brian rises and begins to speak until Harvey interrupts. He then delivers an eloquent speech that redeems him with his daughter and endears him to Kate.
Immediately following the first dance of the bride and groom, the groom calls Harvey up to dance with his daughter for the Father-Daughter Dance. He happily does so, and then all the guests join them on the floor for the rumba, tango and other dances, with Harvey enjoying himself on the dance floor, alone. Kate is left at the table, once again in the same position as when she was on her blind date. Her smile becomes more strained as she looks about and sees herself alone at the table in a room of strangers for several dances, Harvey having apparently forgotten she was there. When she surmises he will not be coming to ask her to dance, her smile disappears and she quietly leaves the room and stands in front of the elevator, preparing to leave.
Harvey, now looking for Kate, goes into the corridor and seeing her waiting for the elevator, he disappears into a side annex with a piano and begins to softly play one of his own jazz compositions for her. She hears the music and follows it, finding Harvey smiling and waiting for her. He asks her to return to the reception to dance and stay with him. She smiles and agrees.
Following the reception, Harvey and Kate walk and talk until dawn. They exchange a single, gentle kiss and agree to meet at noon. At his hotel, Harvey experiences serious heart palpitations and is rushed to the hospital, where he receives a call from Marvin who, having discovered his employee is more indispensable than he thought, urges him to return to work as soon as possible. Harvey decides he prefers to remain in London and explore the possibility of a relationship with Kate. He tracks her down at her writing class and reveals why he missed their rendezvous. Overly cautious about romance because of so many past disappointments, Kate initially resists his suggestion that they see what the future might bring them, but finally agrees to give things a chance.
As they slowly stroll away, Harvey invites Kate to ask him the questions she would have asked him at the airport terminal, and this time, he happily answers, telling her his place of residence "...is in transition."
According to interviews with Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman in An Unconventional Love Story: The Making of Last Chance Harvey, a bonus feature on the DVD release of the film, both had been anxious to work with each other again ever since completing Stranger Than Fiction. When screenwriter/director Joel Hopkins approached her with the script, Thompson suggested he tailor it to accommodate Hoffman, who agreed to portray Harvey if Hopkins would allow his actors the leeway to improvise some of their scenes. Hopkins complied, and several of Harvey and Kate's conversations were ad-libbed while keeping within the dictates of the plot.
London locations seen in the film include Belsize Park, Green Park, Maida Vale, the Millennium Dome on the Greenwich peninsula, the Millennium Bridge, the Royal National Theatre at Southbank Centre, Paddington station, Somerset House, St. John's Wood, Waterloo Bridge, and Heathrow Airport in Middlesex.
- Dustin Hoffman as Harvey Shine
- Emma Thompson as Kate Walker
- Eileen Atkins as Maggie Walker
- Kathy Baker as Jean
- James Brolin as Brian
- Liane Balaban as Susan Shine
- Daniel Lapaine as Scott Wright
- Richard Schiff as Marvin
The film received mainly positive reviews and has a 71% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 153 reviews with an average rating of 6.2 out of 10. The film also has a Metacritic score of 57 out of 100, based on 27 reviews.
Manohla Dargis of the New York Times admitted "there’s something irresistible about watching two people fall in love, even in contrived, sniffle- and sometimes gag-inducing films like Last Chance Harvey . . . I reluctantly gave in to this imperfect movie, despite the cornball dialogue, pedestrian filmmaking, some wincing physical comedy and Mr. Hoffman’s habit of trying to win the audience over by simply staring at the camera with a hapless deadpan that says: Look at me, I’m still cute as a button, still cute as Benjamin in The Graduate, and I’m still kind of lost and still very much in need of your love." 
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times called the film a "tremendously appealing love story surrounded by a movie not worthy of it. For Dustin Hoffman . . . it provides a rare chance to play ... an ordinary guy. For Emma Thompson, there is an opportunity to use her gifts for tact and insecurity . . . When Last Chance Harvey gets out of their way and leaves them alone to relate with each other, it's sort of magical. Then the lumber of the plot apparatus is trundled on, and we wish it were a piece for two players . . . [W]hat's good is very good . . . Pitch perfect. But then the dialogue fades down, and the camera pulls back and shows them talking and smiling freely, and the music gets happier, and there is a montage showing them walking about London with lots and lots of scenery in the frame . . . Last Chance Harvey has everything it needs but won't stop there. It needs the nerve to push all the way. It is a pleasure to look upon the faces of Hoffman and Thompson, so pleasant, so real. Their dialogue together finds the right notes for crossing an emotional minefield. They never descend into tear-jerking or cuteness. They are all grown up and don't trust love nearly as much as straight talk. Hopkins deserves credit for creating these characters. Then he should have stood back and let them keep right on talking. Their pillow talk would have been spellbinding." 
Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle observed, "One's enjoyment of Last Chance Harvey will depend on how suitable one considers the pairing of these characters and how felicitous one considers the pairing of these performers. The latter is most important, because if you enjoy Hoffman and Thompson together, you might be able to overlook the ghastly prospect of poor Kate's throwing her life away on this guy. To be sure, Thompson and Hoffman are watchable and engaging, and that counts for something. But they don't look right as a couple, and each is more interesting in his or her scenes apart than they are together." 
Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly graded the film B-, calling it "a losers-in-love comedy with no big surprises, but in the age of Internet dating, the prospect of two strangers trying this valiantly to connect in public carries a dash of romantic heroism . . . These two deserved the intimate incandescence of their own Before Sunrise, rather than the slightly generic sentimentality of a cross-Atlantic Marty. But Hoffman and Thompson are each good enough to bring out a glow in the other." 
Marjorie Baumgarten of the Austin Chronicle said, "With its thin plot and its title character an American abroad in London, Last Chance Harvey comes across as something like a Before Sunrise for the less-than-nubile set. Were that writer/director Hopkins' dialogue and visualization as scintillating as Richard Linklater's is in his Sunrise/Sunset romances. Of course, the combined acting brilliance of Hoffman and Thompson could elevate the hoariest of clichés and turn almost anything they touch golden – and that is most often the case with Last Chance Harvey. But no one's skills can transcend the kooky banality of a trying-on-dresses montage or burnish the somewhat creepy way in which Harvey first comes on to Kate. Still, these two prove a pleasure to watch, and their conversations are realistic troves of give and take . . . Middle-aged romances are, sadly, hard to find on the silver screen, so it's with some hesitation I pronounce Last Chance Harvey not up to snuff. Yet if we are to see any more romances starring characters old enough to have witnessed both Hoffman and Thompson winning Oscars, it's our responsibility to go out and support this one." 
Claudia Puig of USA Today noted, "The film's biggest asset is the pitch-perfect performances of the two stars. They have a gentle rapport that unfolds convincingly after some initial testiness. It takes two consummate actors to make quickly escalating chemistry feel so natural. We find ourselves heartily rooting for them. Hoffman and Thompson rise above the sometimes obvious story arc, and the result is a surprisingly tender and appealing love story." 
Joshua Rothkopf of Time Out New York rated the film three out of five stars and commented, "If anything can be said to be wrong with so benign an affair, it’s simply that Last Chance Harvey doesn’t feel much like cinema. Little excites the material visually; the film’s dully lensed Blighty lends nothing to the drama. But to watch Hoffman and Thompson work the lines is to witness two extremely unlikely stars recapture the essence of their appeal: The tiny neurotic is suddenly Romeo again, while the cool Brit melts in the light of affection. For some, that will be enough." 
Awards and nominations
Dustin Hoffman was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy but lost to Colin Farrell in In Bruges. Emma Thompson was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy but lost to Sally Hawkins in Happy-Go-Lucky.
Anchor Bay Entertainment released the film on a two-disc DVD set on May 5, 2009. On Disc One the film is presented in anamorphic widescreen format with an audio track in English and subtitles in English and Spanish. Bonus features include commentary with Joel Hopkins, Dustin Hoffman, and Emma Thompson, An Unconventional Love Story: The Making of Last Chance Harvey, and the theatrical trailer. Disc Two presents the film in fullscreen format.
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