My Old Lady Review

My Old Lady

Kevin Kline, where on earth have you been lately?

Other than rounding out the cast in recent geriatric comedy Last Vegas, Kline seems to be keeping a low profile of late.

Granted, I never thought that he deserved the Oscar for A Fish Called Wanda way back when, but that doesn’t mean I want to see him resigned to the scrap heap.

It was therefore pleasing to see him back in action and take on a meaty role in Israel Horowitz’s adaptation of his own stage play, My Old Lady.

Here Kline plays Mathias Gold, a fifty-something multiple divorcee with a string of unpublished novels behind him.

Mathias thinks that his luck has finally changed when he inherits a house in central Paris from his recently deceased father. He is in the door barely five minutes before eyeing up various fixtures and fittings to flog.

What Mathias doesn’t realise is that the house is actually a ‘viager’. In other words, the house had been purchased by his father but, by a quirk of French law, full possession will not be granted until the current resident passes away. In the meantime, the purchaser must pay the current resident a monthly fee until full possession is granted.

In this case, the incumbent resident is Mathilde, played by Maggie Smith, reliable as ever.

On one hand, Mathilde is ninety years old. On the other, she’s an exceptionally sprightly ninety-year old.

As Mathias comes to terms with all this, he encounters Mathilde’s daughter, Kristin Scott Thomas, an English teacher. Sparks fly between the two as Mathias threatens to sell his stake to a rival third party.

Along the way, Mathias also learns some unsettling secrets from Mathilde about his father.

The story’s initial pitch is one which Hollywood would have undoubtedly turned into some sort of lowbrow screwball comedy.

And no disrespect to the Coen Brothers or their indie credentials, but I am specifically thinking of their ill-judged re-working of The Ladykillers.

But in Horowitz’s hands, and with the help of solid performances, this film deals with the story on a deeper and richer level, taking some rather dark and unexpected twists and turns as it reaches its conclusion.

This is not to say that the comedy is completely absent: the scene where Mathias interrogates the family doctor as to Mathilde’s health, or the scene where he sells off the furniture, piece by piece, are both simultaneously comic and indicative of Mathias’ deeper desperation.

The story’s Parisian setting also helps. Charming little vignettes, include an opera singer practicing by the Seine, are supported by Michel Amathieu’s fine cinematography.

Outside of the main trio, the secondary players are wisely kept to a minimum with some limited, but welcome, support on hand from French character actor Dominique Pinon.

This is possibly not the film you would expect, neither from the title nor from the first ten minutes, but turns out to be a rewarding experience.

And proves that maybe I’m wrong about Kline’s Oscar-winning capabilities.

Jonathan Campbell

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November 2014
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