“Last Chance Harvey”
At Showcase and Quality 16
4 out of 5 Stars
There is nothing more tragic or frightening than not understanding your purpose or place in the world. Life moves fast — if you can’t stay above the hustle, the changes and even the failures, you end up alienated and detached like Harvey Shine.
“Last Chance Harvey” follows Shine (Dustin Hoffman, “Meet the Fockers”) as he drifts through his life like a ghost. Lonely after a failed marriage, disconnected from his daughter and trodden upon by the changing pace of his job, Shine accepts every inadequacy his life deals to him.
Enter Kate Walker (Emma Thompson, “Stranger Than Fiction”), a kindred spirit who is equally unhappy with her life. Her job at the airport — handing out post-flight surveys — prompts constant rejection from fliers. She is single, and her mother (who is equally lonely) refuses to leave her alone. So it’s only fitting for Harvey and Kate to find each other (in an airport no less) and discover mutual understanding in the process.
What sets this movie apart from similar films about loneliness and soulmate-finding is its poignant subtleties. Take, for instance, the moment when Harvey sees his daughter at her wedding. They come together, embrace and then … nothing. There is a pause between them as they search for words. The moment is only a few short seconds, but the precious silence reveals everything. The growing gap in their relationship is undeniable. A father should have more than enough things to say to a daughter who is about to be married. And yet Harvey can’t manage to say a sentence before awkward paralysis sets in. Similar moments are scattered throughout the movie and add a such a deft touch that the movie survives without many extravagances or convoluted plot twists.
Of course, the subtleties wouldn’t work without superb acting from both Hoffman and Thompson. The two add uncanny depth and life to their characters. With his distant expressions and beaten demeanor, Hoffman perfectly encapsulates a man whose life has no joy. Thompson is a woman so accustomed to the disappointments and banality of her life that she flees from anyone and anything that will yank her out of her unusual “comfort” zone. Her smiles are simple and perfunctory, but closer attention reveals the true sadness behind them.
But everything changes when Harvey and Kate get together. Their silences melt into laughter and the two characters finally reveal a side of themselves they have kept bottled up for years. Love (and pain) know no boundaries, and the two end up being perfectly quirky together.
Still, the movie does have a few out-of-place scenes at the end. They are products of Hollywood’s uncanny ability to ruin movies by adding over-the-top, useless dramatic scenes to milk even more emotion out of the audience. Luckily, these scenes manage to survive because of Hoffman’s and Thompson’s stellar performances.
“Harvey” is truly a great film because of its characters. They are real people with real problems who are seemingly trapped in their own lives. The movie is inspirational because pain, misery, and desolation are all part of the experience that is life. But no matter how many failures or how many heartaches one may suffer, there is always at least one more chance for redemption.