The standard line on Last Chance Harvey is that it’s refreshing to see a romantic vehicle for older actors, but the truth is that just because stars Hoffman and Thompson are north of 40 (in Hoffman’s case, way north of 40) doesn’t mean that they get to avoid the worn-out pitfalls of the romantic comedy. If anything, Harvey’s low-key, restrained approach to the genre just means that its two stars have to deal with all the tired plot machinations without getting to have any of the fun. Even the wacky montage feels sluggish.
Before we even get to see Hoffman’s advertising jingle-writer Harvey and Thompson’s airport survey-taker Kate meet cute, fumble around a bit, misunderstand each other and eventually fall in love, we have to deal with nearly 40 minutes of establishing scenes that belabor the most obvious starting point of any romantic comedy: These people are lonely. Boy, are they lonely. They’re lonely at work, lonely in public places, lonely in groups of friends and family. If only they could connect to one other person who understood them, cared for them, etc.
When Harvey comes to London for his daughter’s wedding, he endures one humiliation after another, and eventually ends up connecting with Kate in an airport café. They do the predictable rom-com dance, and while Thompson is charmingly real as the often flustered Kate, Hoffman just smirks through the whole thing like he finds it faintly absurd (which, of course, it is). It’s better than the hammy performances he’s been prone to lately, but it still prevents the main characters from having any real chemistry. Harvey’s attempt to reconnect with his daughter is perfunctory rather than poignant, and a comedic subplot about Kate’s paranoid mom seems to have walked in from another film entirely.
The last 20 minutes ratchet up the clichés: the contrived misunderstanding, the mad dash to the airport, the declaration of love. It’s completely banal in its predictability, and equally so in execution. Falling in love has never been so dull.