Last Chance Harvey tells a basic, simple story of a burgeoning love and one that, in a rare instance, isn't about hard-bodied youngsters. Not so much a May-December romance as, say, October-December, it features two of cinema's most esteemed living actors in a narrative that is all the more lovable for its straightforwardness and simplicity. Simple, basic, straightforward . . . does that sound boring? Somehow, it's actually not.
Dustin Hoffman plays Harvey, an aging pianist who, having given up on his dreams of playing jazz, now struggles to remain relevant in his job composing music for commercials. Kate (Emma Thompson) works at the airport and meets Harvey in one of the airport’s restaurants when Harvey travels to London for his estranged daughter’s wedding. The two sad sacks get to talking and end up spending a pleasant day together, a surprise for both of them. Harvey had planned on attending his daughter’s ceremony and not the reception, but Kate convinces him to go — and he insists she accompany him. They are smitten with each other, but in the end Kate must decide if she truly wants to trust in love again. That's most of the story itself, now for more of my take on it,
Fantastical stories make for wonderful escapism, but part of this movie's charm is how feasible it is and how relatable the main duo is. These are flawed, funny, very human characters, and because their flirtation and even their topics of conversation are so plausible, the sweetness of it all is that much more affecting.
Much of this is due to the pitch-perfect acting. I'm convinced there could be nobody else in these roles besides Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson. What a pair! In the first third or so of the movie, we get to know Harvey mostly as a pitiable, bumbling old man who is desperate to remain relevant in his work. Scene after scene harshly hammers home the fact that Harvey is a relic in a constantly advancing field. What with computers doing all his work, he's not really needed anymore. So, he fights tooth and nail to remain important, which only makes him seem more and more pathetic. We need these cringe-worthy scenes of Harvey's crestfallen face and gradual acceptance of his changing purpose in life, however, so that the payoff later is more intensely sweet — when he delights in getting to know Kate, and when he starts to figure out how he might fit into his daughter's life.
Thompson's Kate, meanwhile, is easy to relate to, full of good humor and kindness and realistic ambitions. She's a very "normal," attractive woman who enjoys children but just didn't do the whole married-with-kids thing years ago. Now she's a little bit older and a little bit sad, but she's not in agonizingly bad shape. She's just going along, doing her thing, not without hope for a slightly sweeter future — much like the rest of us. She is so normal, we root for her all the more, wanting her to succeed and get the guy and have some excitement . . . because that could be any of us up there. Perhaps that is what endears this movie to me so much — it provides a true and comforting sense of hope. It's adorably, realistically hopeful.