Netflix Update No. 45: “Last Chance Harvey”

February 16, 2011


We watched the 2008 film “Last Chance Harvey” which stars Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson. Apparently this film attracted some attention when it was released, but I must have been out of town, because I don’t remember hearing about it. Hoffman and Thompson both got Golden Globe “best” nominations, so somebody was paying attention.

This movie got mixed reviews, but I’ll cast my lot with the yea-sayers.

Hoffman plays Harvey Shine, a song writer and musician who wanted to be a jazz pianist but settled for writing commercial jingles. Now that that industry depends far more on digital sound than on the black-and-whites, he’s having a hard time keeping up, so much so that his job is in jeopardy — hence the title of the film.


Meanwhile, Harvey is due to fly to London to attend the wedding of his daughter, Susan (Liane Balaban), who is tighter with her mom and stepfather than with Harvey, her dad. In fact, Harvey feels very much in the way at the dinner on the eve of the ceremony.

Meanwhile, the film follows the life of Londoner Kate Walker (Thompson), a lonely woman who works as a survey taker at Heathrow Airport. Despite a friend’s clumsy attempts to find her a match, Kate seems almost willingly trapped in a drab existence punctuated by constant phone calls from her aged and equally lonely mother.


OK, it’s obvious early on that Kate and Harvey are going to cross paths, but these characters are so well drawn by the actors, and their situations are so familiar, that it’s hard not to get interested in them. I read that Hoffman and Thompson had had a positive experience working together in a previous film and that Hoffman agreed to this role on the condition that he and Thompson ad lib some of their dialog. The relationship between them seems natural, so that strategy paid off.

Some viewers might be distracted by the age difference between Hoffman and Thompson — which is emphasized in a certain way by the difference in their heights — but there is no suggestion that their interest in each other is primarily sexual, or sexual at all, and the things that do attract them to each other make perfect sense. I, for one, am not cynical enough to dismiss the way  Harvey’s personality is rejuvenated under the influence of a timid, self-conscious, but witty and intelligent woman. If one starts with the premise that Joel Hopkins’ script starts with — that both of their lives were at a dead end — the idea that they could form a relationship is both plausible and redemptive.

Hoffman and Thompson


2 Responses to “Netflix Update No. 45: “Last Chance Harvey””

  1. shoreacres Says:

    I loved this review. I thought it was one of the best Valentine offerings that came along this year, partly because of the wide variety of “loves” addressed in the film, including Harvey’s relationship to his work.

    Harvey and Kate reminded me of the writer Darby and Clea, the painter, from Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet. I’ve spent some time trying to find the description of Clea that seems so apropos, but thumbing through Durrell can be nearly useless.

    What I do remember is the statement that Clea brought Darby out of himself not by force of personality but by her “charity” – that is, caritas. Now I’m going to have to re-read the Quartet to find it.

    In any event, this one’s on my must-see list. “Plausible and redemptive” is an irresistable combination.

  2. shoreacres Says:

    After all this time, I finally watched “Last Chance Harvey” at the home of a friend tonight. We both enjoyed it tremendously.

    There were a few formulaic moments – two or three times, one of us successfully predicted what would happen next.
    Still, there were surprises – most delightfully, the “epilogue” with the mother and her neighbor.

    I ended up interested in the characters, and found both of them appealing. I also was mightily amused by the relationship between Kate and her mother – that subplot wasn’t just plausible, it could have been drawn from my life.

    Perhaps my favorite moment came when Kate slipped off her shoes near the end of the film. The greater physical equality between she and Harvey seemed to bode well for the relationship as a whole.

    I’m really glad I watched the film on your recommendation. It was a good one.

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