Last Chance Harvey
Thompson and Hoffman are all you need
In "Last Chance Harvey," Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson - two of our most well-loved stars - play two shy people falling in love. There's hardly anything else to the film, which is almost perversely underwritten; still, it's easy to be thankful for small things in a season of lumbering dramas. "Harvey" is so thin it barely registers as a movie, yet these two actors - British apples and American oranges in their respective approaches to character - almost miraculously weave something memorable out of nothing much.
Hoffman is Harvey, an aging Noo Yawk jingle writer nearing the end of his run. He's off to London to see his daughter (Liane Balaban) get married, nattering about clients and accounts while missing the expression on his boss Richard Schiff's face that says: It's over, bub. Cheerful, panicky, obsessive, Harvey is Willy Loman crossed with "Rain Man," and you understand why he long ago drove a wife (Kathy Baker) into the arms of another man (James Brolin, white-haired and elegant).
Thompson is Kate, a middle-aged Heathrow employee whose sad, intelligent eyes mirror the life that has passed her by. She has several busybody co-workers and a mother (Eileen Atkins) who rings her up fifty times a day and she's utterly alone in her pensive funk. Harvey meets Kate when he gets off a plane; he growls and slips right by her. The following day, after he has realized he's a nobody at his own daughter's wedding, they meet again. The dance, absurdly passive-aggressive, begins.
What would these two people ever see in each other? Twenty-two years and a foot of height separate Kate and Harvey, not to mention the wildly disparate DNA of the people playing them. Forget about countries: Hoffman and Thompson seem to come from different historical epochs. He's the Graduate; she's Jane Austen. He honks; she murmurs. He's a terrier; she's an impala.
Perhaps writer-director Joel Hopkins knows something we don't, though - that two gifted actors, like two lonely people, will always find a way to make it work. If these characters don't have chemistry, the stars do, or, rather, they each rise to the fun and challenge of working with the other.
So there are moments to treasure, but they're small and delicately crafted - actors' moments. I'm thinking of the scene in which Harvey, a failed jazzbo, sits and plays Kate one of his own compositions (it's probably his only one) and we and she realize this is his way of asking her to stay. Or the scene toward the end, by the banks of the Thames, where Thompson takes her character from certainty to tears in the space of a sentence, and you sigh in gratitude at the emotional whiplash.
That's it; that's all. But sometimes that's enough.