Featuring: Maggie Smith, Kevin Kline, Kristin Scott Thomas, Dominique Pinon
Director: Israel Horovitz
Screenwriter: Israel Horovitz
Movie website: cohenmedia.net/films/my-old-lady
Australian release date: Thu 13 Nov
Verdict: Melodramatic, stagey and plays safe, but is nevertheless charming and entertaining. Powered by good performances.
Impecunious middle-aged New Yorker Mathias (Kevin Kline) travels to Paris to sell a valuable apartment he has inherited from his estranged father, but gets more than he bargained for when he discovers that it is a viager – a property bought cheaply on condition that the purchaser does not sell until the resident dies, and in the meantime pays a set amount per month towards their living costs. In this case, the resident, Mathilde (Maggie Smith), is in her 90s, but to Mathias’s mounting alarm, is still going exceedingly strong! Adding to his woes is Mathilde’s openly hostile daughter Chloé (Kristin Scott Thomas), who lives with her. With no funds and nowhere to live, Mathias insists on moving in while he figures out what to do.
Initially shaping as a comedy, the piece darkens as the characters peel back their layers. Mathias presents as an irreverent and endearing loser who gets by through cynical wit. However, when it comes to light that Mathilde and his father were long-term lovers, he’s revealed as a tragic alcoholic clown struggling with deep hurt. Maggie Smith does the refined dowager as delightfully as always, but her character is cast in a very different light when her past finds its way into the present. Indeed, she is the source of much anguish – justifiably or otherwise – for embittered Chloé, as well as Mathias. Care is taken not to encumber the characters with directorial judgement. Mathias and Chloé are put to the psychological torch, but unfortunately, the heat is prematurely withdrawn.
The drama progresses towards a resolution that is satisfying to a point, but largely predictable and a little too neat and safe. The compensation is in the getting there, which is well managed, both in terms of the writing and performances. That said, although the dramatic fundamentals are solid, there is a theatrical feel about the set-up and a sense that stage, rather than film, might have been a more natural fit for the work. And as good as the actors are, the characters fail to elicit the sympathy required to ensure a level of emotional investment on the part of the viewer that might have made for a more memorable movie experience.
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