MY OLD LADY. Starring: Maggie Smith, Kevin Kline, Kristin Scott-Thomas, and Dominique Pinon. Directed by Israel Horovitz. Rated M (Mature themes). 107min.
This British-American film is a comedy-drama movie that has a stellar cast. It is a film of a play by the same name, written in 2002 by the film's Director, Israel Horovitz.
It tells the story of a depressed, three times-divorced, ageing, alcoholic New Yorker, Mathias Gold (Kevin Kline), who inherits a valuable apartment in Paris left to him by his father, with whom he never got along.
When Mathias arrives in Paris, he discovers that the apartment is already occupied by an elderly woman, Mathilde Girard (Maggie Smith), who lives there with her daughter, Chloe (Kristin Scott-Thomas). Mathilde has no intention of leaving, and by a legal quirk of Property French Law, Mathias can't get ownership of the apartment until Mathilde dies. To make things worse, Mathias has to pay Mathilde monthly support until she dies, and he is down and out.
All three main characters (Mathias, Mathilde and Chloe) wear wounds that cause them anguish. Mathilde was unfaithful to her husband who is deceased, and she is now living with her memories and photographs; Mathias has low self-esteem, and feels he is a failure; and Chloe has dedicated her whole life to her mother, who has never asked that she do that. Mathias resents his father as much as Chloe feels unloved by Mathilde.
There is a predictability about parts of the plot as the story-line unravels. Chloe and Mathias are less than friendly to each other when Mathias moves in, but parental rejection helps to bond them together before the film concludes. Mathias is shocked to find
out that his father and Mathilde knew each other rather differently from what he had supposed, and that Chloe has been aware of the affair since the age of 10.
Maggie Smith is almost perfectly suited to this role. She delivers single witty asides to perfection and was brilliant in bringing the humanity and eccentricity of Alan Bennett's dramatic monologues and stories vividly to life on the Australian and London stage. "I'm 90", she snaps at Mathias, and "certainty is not something that interests me".
The Director of the film lets comic moments slip by as the complexities of the story-line take over. The best thing about the movie is the interaction between Kevin Kline and Maggie Smith, and they are great in their roles. They both know what makes for good comic delivery, and it seems a pity that the plot problems associated with their characters absorb the comic potential of their scenes together. It is hard to extract high comedy from betrayal, adultery, alcoholism (and other things), and the film moves into serious territory as the tensions of the drama create quite dark situations.
There are unexpected, not to be revealed, twists in the plot that help to transform the characters, but plot complexity basically anchors the film down. However, the smartness of the acting carries the day. Kline, Smith and Scott-Thomas all live up to their reputations as polished and seasoned performers.
With actors this good, the movie is entertaining and enjoyable, and holds attention. In the film, Paris keeps its charm and is photographed well, the apartment looks great, there is assured direction from a director who is totally confident with his material, and lesser players, like Dominique Pinon (as a sympathetic real-estate agent) do a commendable job.
This is a film that travels quickly from witty comedy delivered at a leisurely pace, to heavy drama that has serious intent. It all comes out right in the end, but there are some dark things around the corner.
Peter W. Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting
Entertainment One Films
Released November 13th., 2014