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The Mysteries of Connection: Last Chance Harvey

You're never too old to be the center of a romantic comedy, and Joel Hopkins' film Last Chance Harvey has the glorious duo of Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman falling for each other by the banks of the River Thames.
harveyThe romance Last Chance Harvey gives Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson the chance to meet cute, dance around each other, and stroll up and down the cobblestone streets of London. It's a familiar formula, summed up easily as “Before Sunrise with old people,” but in this case, it's a trans-Atlantic coupling that's stranger and knottier than Linklater's classic. Age plays a part in it; after all, these characters have been around the block, and they warily wonder if their connection will lead to something more.

 

The mysteries of connection have become a specialty of sort for Harvey director Joel Hopkins, the London-based ("I'm a New Yorker [as well], I lived there from 1994-2007, so I'm very fond of it") writer/director whose cinematic career has specialized in watching people dart, weave, bob, and edge towards each other.

 

Hopkins had an auspicious debut with 2001's Jump Tomorrow. Like Harvey, Tomorrow has a mélange of familiar tropes—in this case, the near-cliché quirks of your average indie romantic comedy, including a road trip, a clash of cultures (an uptight Nigerian man set for an arranged marriage, a brokenhearted Englishman, and an earthy Latina), and stylized, 60s-influenced direction that hearkens back to old Peter Sellers films.

 

The result was a sweet, sincere, and sexy film featuring wonderful elements, whether it's the acting of Tunde Adebimpe (better known these days as the co-frontman of critically adored rock band TV on the Radio) as the lead, Jorge, who's characterized by a mix of commanding sexiness and crippling shyness, or the rotting mill towns of upstate New York, re-imagined as picturesque villages both austere and brightly colored. Hopkins can take some credit for discovering Adebimpe (who's also in theaters right now in Rachel Getting Married, as the guy Rachel marries). On seeing TV on the Radio in London last year, Hopkins "got possessive. I thought, 'You don't know him like I do!' He's a man of many talents. He always seems to land on his feet, that boy."

 

Tomorrow is an utterly charming film, the type that would keep a director on any cineaste’s radar, and according to Hopkins, he didn’t mean, per se, to have a seven-year gap between films: “I’ve been doing lots! Promise! Lots of false starts attached to lots of film that almost happened. I juggle between writing my own stuff, directing, attaching myself to projects. I make my bread and butter adapting works. That’s kept my head above water. Very frustrating.”

 

Despite the break, Harvey “came together very quickly.” Hopkins first met Thompson when he interviewed to direct 2005's Nanny McPhee. While that project didn’t work out, “Emma saw Jump Tomorrow, loved it, and she said we should do something. I came up with an idea for her. That happened quite quickly and magically. She helped me get this film made. She got behind me and took a leap of faith. She's continued to do that.”

 

laIt's a pleasure to see Thompson take on the role of Kate, a forty-something singleton, smart and capable at her job, with writerly aspirations. She's lonely, though, and the audience sees it in an early scene, when she goes on a blind date that turns into a group thing. For Hopkins, this scene required careful writing and casting: "I wanted the guy to be a little bit younger than her. He was a viable possibility, and he wasn't a shit, but he wasn't invested in this date. He's at that age where it was more comfy with him to be with younger women."

 

Early scenes like this bad date pay off when Kate meets Dustin Hoffman's Harvey. The audience can understand why she'd be interested in this short American, who's in London for his estranged daughter's wedding. Like Tomorrow, Harvey pivots around this event, and weddings have been a source of inspiration for Hopkins: "It's a ticking clock device. [In Jump Tomorrow], it's so obvious and that was the point, since it was a storybook world. In this film, the wedding's more nuanced. I wanted to do something that takes place over a couple of days, with an American and an English person."

 

Thompson and Hoffman have an easy chemistry, with Thompson's thoughtful reserve bouncing off Hoffman' s nervous energy. "They're good," said Hopkins. "On the monitor, it just clicks. That makes sense. You get less desperate as a director." In fact, watching the two actors parry back-and-forth had the director thinking, "That's my second movie and that's great!"

 

He says this with a youthful vigor, promising that he won't take seven years between films ever again. And that's a good thing. The movies need a refreshing take on romance, and Hopkins' films show a sweet, gentle perspective that feels absolutely new.

 



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