by Cecilia Ford


Last week, Women’s Voices For Change was invited to a screening of Last Chance Harvey, a movie that addresses the thorny issue of a woman of a certain age finding romance. This film, wonderfully played by two of Hollywood’s most naturalistic actors, presents a pair of discouraged, disappointed, and downtrodden people who meet accidentally in an airport in London. Emma Thompson (who blogs about the movie here, at Midlife Bloggers) said that her character Kate, the female lead, is “an ordinary woman in her forties living a rather stale-looking life as best she can.”

Having grown to expect disappointment, Kate reluctantly accepts a blind date early in the film, cursing herself for her capacity to be wounded yet again when it becomes clear that her date is not interested in her. Harvey (Dustin Hoffman) catches her completely off guard. Older by at least 15 years, he too, has had his share of disappointments, including a divorce and an estranged daughter (whose wedding is the occasion that brings him, an American, to London).


The plot is fairly predictable (boy meets girl, boy loses girl). But the characters are very unusual for a big budget Hollywood film: fully realized, well written, flawed, realistic, recognizable and no longer youthful. Harvey is a little bent in the shoulders; Emma Thompson says about the character she portrayed, “I really wanted to look like a ‘normal’ woman….in terms of body size.”

 

Kate is not glamorous in terms of figure or wardrobe. She has a dull job, and unlike many movie characters, her context is well described: her mother, her friends, the class she takes once a week after work. Rather like a good short story, “Last Chance Harvey” evokes a complete life in a very small amount of time.

Women’s Voices for Change, of course, is all about recognizing the power and opportunities that growing older can bring; similarly, the film intends the title to be ironic. These characters believe that life has passed them by (the last chance in the title refers to Harvey’s career problems, not just romance). Their eyes are closed to new possibilities. “Both of these characters have resigned themselves,” Thompson said at the screening. “Not without effort, not without still wanting to work and do good things and have an interesting life. They still want all that, but the opportunities seem to be just out of their reach.”

For various reasons, including ever-lengthening life spans, we are more and more likely to find ourselves searching for a partner after menopause. For many women, the prospect of rejection seems too frightening to risk it. “I think falling in love when you’re older is devastating,” Thompson said of her role. “It’s an enormous thing to happen, especially when you don’t think it’s coming your way.”

The key to overcoming fear is to become open to thinking of yourself in new ways. You are not the same person you were at 21. You can’t attract a partner in the same way; by the same token, you are not attracted to the same things in a man. Kate is surprised to find herself interested in Harvey, who at first glance seems much less appealing than the younger, more handsome fellow that she was set up with at the beginning of the movie.

I don’t think Kate realizes at first that she has evolved into a very wise and compassionate woman. All those years of caring for her mother, doing the right thing, bearing disappointments, and so on, have actually prepared her well for the possibility of a mature relationship. She is a woman who knows her mind and seems to have made peace with herself.

This is obviously true of Harvey as well, who openly admits that he was a failure as a husband and father in the past but gives the impression that he may have learned from his mistakes. Like a nicely aged wine just ready to be opened, Kate looks to him like a wonderfully complex gift to be savored, and thanks to Thompson’s poignant performance, the audience agrees.

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  • Andrea January 22, 2009 at 3:42 pm

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