Sunday, May 31, 2009

Last Chance Harvey -- awkwardly dealing with disappointment

Director: Joel Hopkins; 2008.

Viewers be warned: dealing with disappointment is a major theme of this film. And it should be highlighted on the movie poster since the film itself is a major disappointment. Director Joe Hopkins wrote the screenplay and after this he should be Last Chance Hopkins.

Last Chance Harvey feels like a rom-com for middle-aged movie-goers. Considering that Dustin Hoffman is 71 and Emma Thompson is 50, this is no Sleepless in Seattle, or even lovesick in London. This is a rom-com minus the romance and the comedy. So, what's left? Nothing much. And nothing much really happens. Not as though the audience really cares, since neither of the main characters is empathetically engaging.

New Yorker Harvey Shine (Hoffman) finds himself in London for the weekend to attend his daughter's wedding. But all the while, he is focused on his job as a jingle-writer. His boss is in New York pitching to a client, and Harvey wants to keep the client; but his boss is thinking younger talent.

At the wedding rehearsal dinner, Harvey sees his ex-wife and is immediately cut down by her acid tongue. Seeing his daughter Susan again, they do not even hug. This is indicative of Harvey's life. No love. No relationships. Indeed, Susan takes this precious moment to tell him that she wants her stepfather to give her away. Strike one. His attention is obvious when he skips out on the wedding dinner to get to Heathrow. But he misses the plane, and then is told by his boss he is not needed in New York. Strike two.

In a parallel set of scenes, we meet Kate (Thompson), a questionnaire-giver at Heathrow who is single. With no man in her life, she only has her mom, whose marriage is over and who constantly pries into her daughter's life. Her friends set her up on blind dates, and leave her awkwardly alone with strangers.

Given this plot, it is not surprising that Harvey runs into Susan in a bar at Heathrow drowning his sorrows. When he tries to talk to her and buy her lunch, she refuses. Strike three. But unlike baseball, Harvey is not out. A merciful end to the movie could have occurred, but instead Harvey acts like a stalker and pursues her for some unexplained reason. And what makes no real sense is why she allows him to go for a long walk with her in the heart of London.

Casting two Oscar-winning actors in Hoffman (Kramer vs Kramer, Rainman) and Thompson (Howard's End) must have seemed like a perfect match. Unfortunately, they have absolutely no chemistry and it is a wonder that Thompson's character spends any time at all with Harvey. They have an awkward time together throughout the film.

When Kate convinces Harvey that he must go back to his daughter's wedding dinner, the contrived sentimentality kicks in. When the toasts start happening it is inevitable that Harvey will want part of the action. And like Kym's impromptu speech at Rachel's pre-wedding dinner (Rachel Getting Married), Harvey's speech is awkward and embarassing, yet a little tender too.

The issue of disappointment arises when Harvey looks to Kate as something more than a walking-buddy. Kate says, "I'm not gonna do it, because it'll hurt! Sometime or other there'll be, you know "It's not working." or "I need my space." or whatever it is and it will end and it will hurt, and I won't do it." She has been hurt before, and she does not want to face that pain and disappointment again. Emotionally insecure, she is willing to give up on relationships and live a life of loneliness to avoid possible pain. She prefers the known flat-line than face the peaks and possible troughs of love.

Do we ever run from relationships because of such a fear of disappointment? Have we ever played it safe, sitting alone with our hobbies, our songs, our poetry to protect us? God has said "it is not good for the man [person] to be alone" (Gen .2:18). We were made for community and we cannot live a loveless life. That is a dull and daily death. We were made for life and love and other mysteries.

How does fear of disappointment translate into our relationship with God? Are we ever afraid of being disappointed by him? Our earthly fathers have let us down, sometimes way too frequently. Are we scared our heavenly father will let us down, too? Are our expectations of him too high? Or perhaps too low? Do we even care to know about God? Whatever we say or think, one thing is clear. God, our heavenly father, will never disappoint us. Others may, indeed will. But he won't. Don't hide from him like Kate hid from life. Like Harvey, there is still a chance for you to find satisfaction with God.

Copyright ©2009, Martin Baggs

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