A Romance for the Post-Gym Set

last-chance-harvey.jpgAt the opening night gala for the 20th Palm Springs International Film Festival, CultureCatch (CC) sidled up to the 38-and-bearded Joel Hopkins. This affable director of the Dustin Hoffman-Emma Thompson starrer Last Chance Harvey was looking quite pleased standing walking distance from the liquor tables and cheese platters. And why shouldn't he? His film had earned the most prestigious spot at one of America's top festivals, Palm Springs, home to a moneyed, robustly aging, Oscar-voting populace. However, what was on CC's mind was why the title was seemingly ungrammatical. Weren't the options Last-Chance Harvey or Last Chance, Harvey? Aren't the Brits rather finicky about these matters? Sadly, CC chickened out and queried, "How does it feel to have the opening spot, Mr. Hopkins?" "Well, obviously it's a huge honor. I was trying to work out why they chose this film, and I think it's quite a good one to start off with. That sounds a bit pat, but Last Chance Harvey's about new beginnings at any age, so I think that's why they chose it. It's a springboard. It's quite a good film to start a festival with hopefully." "So are you single?" "No, I'm not." "This film then isn't wishful thinking on your part that after a disastrous marriage you'll find true love someday?" CC asked. "Maybe it is," Hopkins heartily laughed. "I wrote it in New York. I'd been living in New York for about twelve years. I'm a Londoner. So the London aspect was me projecting and thinking about my hometown, but no, I'm in a long-term relationship. I got some children, but I think in a way everyone's been in a situation like this. However, it's a million miles away from myself," "And were you satisfied with the attendees' reaction?" "Tonight it was fantastic. I felt we were playing in some ways to our audience here since Palm Springs is skewed slightly older. It seemed to really respond. It always makes me a little nervous because the film's a juggling act between comedy and pathos. But they were laughing a lot, and I almost worried they were laughing too much because then you think, 'Oh, shit! I got to get them back down and will they come with me sort of thing,' but it seemed to ride quite well." Wait a minute! Aren't Brits supposed to spout "bloody" instead of "shit"? Taken aback, CC didn't tell Hopkins this opening spot doesn't always fare well for the chosen film. Helen Hunt's Then She Found Me, last year's pick, bombed big time nationally and critically. Harvey should do better, though, because even the hard-boiled New York Times' Manohla Dargis was slightly bowled over: "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." Yes, Hoffman plays the self-involved advertising jingle writer Harvey Shine, who is having a rather bad day. While in England to attend his daughter's nuptials, he loses his job in the States and gets replaced on the wedding aisle by his ex-wife's new spouse (James Brolin). You see, Harvey was an especially horrid husband and an equally lousy dad. Consequently, trying to drown his wits at a local bar, he runs into the hapless Kate (Thompson), and loves quickly blooms in a haphazard manner. The proceedings are almost painless, the acting/mugging is acceptable, especially if you adore the stars, and the message is quite applaudable: No matter how over the hill you are physically or mentally, Cupid still has an arrow left for you. - Brandon Judell brandon.jpgMr. Judell, who's currently teaching "Contemporary Israeli/Palestinian Cinema" at City College, has written on film for The Village Voice, indieWire, Detour, and dozens of other publications.