My Old Lady (2014) / Comedy-Drama
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for thematic material and some sexual references
Running Time: 103=7 min.
Cast: Kevin Kline, Maggie Smith, Kristin Scott Thomas, Dominique Pinon, Stephane De Groodt
Director: Israel Horovitz
Screenplay: Israel Horovitz (based on his play)
Review published September 24, 2014
Kevin Kline (The Last of Robin Hood, Last Vegas) stars as Matthias 'Jim' Gold, an American approaching his 60s without much to be proud of in his life (except three divorces and a stack of novels never published), who inherits a sprawling and lush apartment in Paris left to him from his recently deceased father. He intends to sell it for the millions it is worth, except there is a snag. The apartment is currently being lived in by its prior owner, Mathilde (Smith, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel), an English woman who entered into a "viager" contract that allows her to live there, rent free, for the rest of her life -- in fact, he has to pay her to let her live there. Luckily for Jim, she's 92, so the situation should dissipate soon enough, but in the meantime, he's not above selling off some of the antique furnishings or courting potential buyers who don't mind waiting like buzzards for the old lady to expire.
75-year-old playwright Israel Horovitz takes his first stab at directing a movie, to mostly disappointing results. I suppose there's not likely to be another person more closely in sync with his play of the same name, which he also adapted himself, in order to bring it to the big screen, but perhaps a different perspective would have been in order to make something that works on the stage feel less reliant on monologues that grind the momentum of this drama with comic beats to a stand still for extended periods.
There's really only two reasons to see the film, and their names are Kevin Kline and Maggie Smith. Both of them are in tip-top form, and were this a better movie overall, it's the kind of thing that might have garnered both of them Academy Award nominations. They still have an outside shot, but I'd venture the movie will long be forgotten by the time the Academy voters start looking at what to nominate. I'd mention Kristen Scott Thomas (The Invisible Woman, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen), an excellent actress who is no stranger to Oscar nominations, but her role here is so terrible, playing Mathilde's perpetually angry (at Jim at first, then at herself) live-in daughter Chloe, that even a wonderful actress like her can't make it palatable.
The tendency to go for maudlin melodrama undermines the promising early scenes in which we're treated to some light farcicalflourishes that gets us in the mood for a pithy and pleasant time laughing at the foibles of some fairly flawed people. Unfortunately, those flaws eventually make way for lots of gut-spilling moments in which family secrets are extracted that turn the film's tempo into a soul-searching, angst-ridden drama in which everyone is a tormented being whose happiness has been eluding them on the heels of others indiscreet affairs.
As Jim's alcoholism takes center stage, the scabs are torn off, which results in anguished revelations on being unloved, suicidal, dysfunctional, and full of spite at his mostly absent and seemingly neglectful father. Everyone is burdened with such emotional baggage that the film grows every more weary with each actor's showcase moment that gets pushed forward. We hear every intimate detail of their most secret, pathetic lives, and yet, the more we know, the less we care for these people.
My Old Lady starts with such youthful exuberance and potential, yet, like its male lead character, grows too self-absorbed with its own problems, stagnating into a lack of accomplishment when it's all said and done. And also like its characters, its self-serving indulgences cause unintended casualties, namely for us, the viewers, who must suffer through a nearly intolerable second half. At least we can admire the actors.
-- There are extra scenes during and after the credits.
©2014 Vince Leo