LIFF28 - My Old Lady - Cinema Review

'This is a story which quite easily could have been written as a straight drama; whether that would have made a more or less successful film than the comedy Horovitz presents us with is hard to say'.

For much of its running time, My Old Lady is quite happy to be a perfectly serviceable gentle comedy, unremarkable from a cynical perspective but consistently charming enough to get away with it. It's to the credit of writer and director Israel Horovitz, adapting his own stage play for the screen in his feature directorial debut, that not only does he manage to address some considerably weighty issues within his mostly light-hearted story, but also that he does so in a way that feels both natural and successful.

Horovitz's story centres around New Yorker Jim (Kevin Kline) coming to Paris after inheriting a large apartment from his late father, only to discover the property is a "viager" - a complex and archaic French system of ownership which means that the current occupant, the elderly Mathilde (Maggie Smith), can remain there until she dies. It's a smart set-up which benefits from likely being completely unfamiliar to most, as well as giving Horovitz ample opportunity for some naturally funny scenarios. Kline and Smith are reliably excellent, playing off each other well, whilst Kristin Scott Thomas as Mathilde's daughter Chloé rounds off the central trio pleasingly. Horovitz's assembled main cast emerges as one of the strongest elements of his film, even if there's a lingering feeling that Kline and Smith in particular are ever close to being stretched by their roles here.

The humour works well, although it often feels a little too good-natured to truly stand out. Jim's ongoing interactions with a mounted boar's head in particular become increasingly amusing throughout and successfully provide some comedic highlights. It's in Horovitz's choice to delve into more serious territory, however, skilfully and delicately exloring themes including depression and suicide, that My Old Lady is regularly at its best. This is a story which quite easily could have been written as a straight drama; whether that would have made a more or less successful film than the comedy Horovitz presents us with is hard to say.

There are elements here, however, which firmly position My Old Lady as a good film but not a great one. The most frustrating of these is Horovitz's presentation of Paris, which is only a shot of the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe away from being the full-on tourist version of the French capital. The Paris of the film feels trite and false: a city populated by cyclists who almost run people over, omnipresent stone gargoyles and women standing by the Seine and singing opera for no reason. The fact that the soundtrack also opts for the most hackneyed of French musical clichés - whimsical accordion-playing - only makes matters worse. Horovitz seems perfectly happy to go with a bromidic version of Parisian life rather than something more original and authentic, and his film loses something of its charm as a result.

Outside of the three main characters, others here feel somewhat underdeveloped; Stéphane Freiss' character, for example, may as well be called "generic cold-hearted French businessman". Dominique Pinon fares better as estate agent Lefebvre, although he too feels as though he could have done with a bit more depth to justify the character's most impactful scene towards the end. Ultimately, however, the issues within My Old Lady are annoyances rather than fatal flaws. Comedies of this ilk rarely take on the issues Horovitz successfully tackles head-on at times within his story. That, coupled with the trio of strong performances leading the film, certainly make My Old Lady worthy of your time.

My Old Lady plays LIFF28 again on Tuesday 18th November at 18.00 and Wednesday 19th November at 15.30, both at Vue in The Light.

The 28th Leeds International Film Festival runs from 5th-20th November 2014 at cinemas around the city, including Hyde Park Picture House and Leeds Town Hall. Tickets and more information are available via the official LIFF website.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

No comments:

Post a Comment