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Dating After 50:
Negotiating the Minefields of Mid-Life Romance
by Sharon Romm
(Discounted Paperback from Amazon)
. "Last Chance Harvey"

To those who think there's an age limit for a romantic comedy, Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson would like to pursuade you otherwise. It's a darn good try, and writer-director Joel Hopkins gives it his best shot. But as for being pursuaded, that's another matter.

In the early going, two characters, their lives, their situations, are introduced separately, but we quickly realize that the forces of cinematic destiny are at work. Not subtle, but I'll give it cute.

Deplaning in London for his daughter's wedding, the man and the woman see each other for the first time when she approaches him to participate in an airline survey on the arrival ramp. He declines on the basis of being too tired. Destiny forestalled. Bad impression made. Later, she grabs the taxi he's just left. Again, taunting us with another spot of destiny denied.

There are reasons why these two candidates for a liaison might be made for each other at this time in their lives. Harvey Shine (Hoffman) is a commercial jingle composer who's about to lose his job. He's on a quick weekend trip into an estranged family lion's den in which ex-wife (Kathy Baker) and replacement father (James Brolin) are staging the marriage of his and the ex's daughter Susan (Liane Balaban). But it's clear from his reception that he was invited because you can't not invite the birth father of the bride, not because he's held in any particular esteem.

Just where he stands on the scale of family fondness is indicated by the fact that the Susan has come to the decision to dis her distant father in favor of having the local and stalwart father-in-law give her hand away in marriage, for which she apologizes to dad, with a tear or two.

Now, Harvey is not at all pleased with all this, but he goes through the motions at family dinner and, next morning at the ceremony, with all intentions of boarding the flight back home in time to sit in on a big commercial meeting where, again, he's not wanted. This time, by his sleazy boss (Richard Schiff) who, over the phone, informs him that he's officially been fired. He races to the airport to head off this disaster. He misses the plane. Why not? We've got to keep him in London if the earlier set up has any chance of leading us to the real purpose of the plot.

After establishing that Kate (Thompson, "Sense and Sensibilities") is a spinster with a doting mother, and a woman who spends her leisure time reading and regularly attending a writing class, the inevitable cute meet occurs. It's the airport bar, where Harvey has come for a few drinks to gird himself after missing his flight. Who's sitting there alone but Kate, reading her book and sipping her wine. I'm not even going to tell you that he charms the resistant Englishwoman into taking a walk and his life isn't going to go into the gutter the way he'd imagined.

Have I left anything out? Oh, yeah, the whole rest of the movie.

No quarrel with the casting; these two fine actors, whose last collaboration was "Stranger Than Fiction" (the film title not a characterization of their roles), deliver a modicum of humor along with the tensions of an unplanned attraction that could turn into a life-changing relationship. Unfamiliar, uneasy territory. But, while they create chemistry of a sort, it's not of the potentially explosive variety. There's no way to conjure this into a Romeo and Juliet inevitability. This is strictly a benign experiment and lab hours are limited.

The main question you ask yourself here is, when does a spontaneous act of platonic association at an advanced age turn physical and, well, how much do you care? The sentimentality crowd (for whom it's intended) will sup it up but, when the experiment came to a conclusion, my tougher-love wish was for these two to find better chances to explore their considerable talents.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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