|Maggie Smith. Kevin Kline. Head of boar.|
What could possibly go wrong?
Dir. Israel Horovitz
Starring: Maggie Smith, Kevin Kline, Kristin Scott-Thomas
Review By Greg Klymkiw
That 75-year-old writer Israel Horovitz has remain tethered to the theatrical roots of adapting his play to the big screen is not the main problem plaguing his belated feature-length directorial debut. The source material and, by extension, his screenplay for My Old Lady, is afflicted with a kind of narrative schizophrenia.
It's not, however, without some merit.
When we first meet Mathias Gold (Kevin Kline), he's penniless. Happily, his rudderless life in New York is behind him as he's depleted what little dough he had to fly across the pond and secure the Parisian home willed to him by his estranged and recently deceased father. Real estate values in Gay-Paree being sky's the limit, especially the choice property he's come into, Mathias feels like he's finally hit the freedom-58 jackpot.
His series of failed marriages, unpublished novels and flopper-roo suicide attempt seem like so many dust bunnies sucked up into a vacuum cleaner. Before hitting the big 6-0, maybe, just maybe, he's going to do some real living.
This, however, proves easier said than done. He is, after all, in France. It seems dear, departed daddy purchased the property under the perverse real estate laws of le beau pays de la romance and he's stuck with the original owner, the 92-year-old Mathilde (Maggie Smith), until she dies. Now, at this ripe age, you'd think it wouldn't be a problem, but the terms of such a purchase, known as a viager, stipulates that the rightful property owner must pay the original owner a generous monthly stipend. If these payments ever go into default, the buyer loses the property to the original owner.
Mathias has no money. None. Zip. Nada. He also has no home. Until he can figure out how to make the monthly payments, he's also forced into renting a room from the old lady. They do snipe ever-so amusingly and eruditely at one another. Never fear, though, Horovitz doesn't take us into some kind of sickening Harold and Maude wannabe territory. Mathilde, you see, has an unmarried, middle-aged, but super-hot daughter Chloé (Kristin Scott Thomas). She hates Mathias's guts, almost from the second she lays eyes on him, but I think you know where all this is going to lead, mais non?
Hmmmm, can love be round the corner? Well, not soon enough.
If My Old Lady simply settled into a drawing room romantic comedy with the trio verbally jousting until a few spanners in the works are overcome and everybody just damn well lived happily-ever-after, then we'd have been handed an innocuous well-played trifle. This would not have been the end of the world. Even I could have lived with that.
Unfortunately, a whole series of dark secrets begin to unfurl and plunges us into a half-baked melodrama we're supposed to swallow. Don't get me wrong, I love melodrama and I respect Horovitz for trying something akin to dramatic suicide, but the fact remains is that it simply doesn't work. The movie goes off the rails quite dreadfully and just keeps chugging its wheels until tedium and utter disbelief becomes the order of the day.
The movie does, thankfully, wrap itself into a nice bow with some funny bits just as we're about to throw in the towel, but it's too little too late. As a film director, though, Horovitz does manage to jockey things smoothly until his writing begins to tumble into a murky abyss. The verbiage, when it's funny, is pretty crisp and even the monologues (when they're not too deathly serious) don't feel stilted. Horovitz opens his play up - it is Paris, after all, so why not get a few good eyefuls of it, but occasionally he errs in opening up, seemingly for the sake of opening up. This is never something I'm happy to see when it feels forced and here it's too often shoved down our throats.
By the picture's end, we're left with a bit of a dog's breakfast, but when things click, they do so very nicely indeed. Finally, though, the glue that holds the entire thing together is the presence of Smith, Kline and Thomas who give it their all. It's not quite enough to save the picture, but I do suspect admirers of this trio will find some morsels of engagement in their very solid performances.
THE FILM CORNER RATING: **½ Two-and-a-half Stars
My Old Lady is in a modest theatrical release throughout Canada via dFilms.
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