What it's about:
Matthew Morgan (Michael Caine) is a widower living in Paris, lost after the death of his wife two years ago. When he meets the slightly odd, but vivacious young French dance instructor, Pauline (Clemence Poesy), however, his life is given a renewed energy – an energy that he's going to need to deal with his (both literally and figuratively) distant children.
What we thought:
Everything was in place to make Mr Morgan's Last Love something quite special. It has a killer cast, including Michael Caine in a lead role; an “exotic” locale and a story that may never have had a chance at being original but should have provided the sort of simple pleasures that this kind of family drama usually thrives on. Unfortunately, it never really manages to get off the ground.
Writer/ director Sandra Nettelbeck dedicates the film to her father and it's pretty clearly a personal, heart-felt work but, though it might be churlish, even mean, to simply write it off as a cliched, plodding and largely unsatisfying drama with an over-reliance on platitudes and manipulative sentimentality, it is what it is and all the good intentions in the world can't really make up for so many fatal flaws. Still, the fact that it is a well-meaning failure, rather than a crass, cynical Hollywood product does at least engender enough good will towards it that the ultimate result is boring, rather than anything remotely hateful.
Indeed, though its cast consists of the kind of A-class actors that can easily be depended on to turn in good performances, Nettlebeck certainly never drops the ball at coaxing the best out of her performers. Michael Caine's American accent is laughably bad but he otherwise turns in a terrifically warm, humane performance that is matched impressively by an equally lovely turn by Clemence Poesy, who is perhaps best known to non-French audiences as Fleur in the Harry Potter films and, weirdly, sounds more American here than Michael Caine. Their relationship plays out like a low-rent, even more awkward Lost in Translation but both actors are never less than engaging.
Problems start to arise, however, when the focus turns to Justin Kirk's Miles Morgan. Kirk is an exceptionally good actor who has more than proven himself with scene-stealing roles in Weeds and Angels in America but there's only so much he can do with his dramatically crucial but still quite underwritten character. It's especially sad that his natural comic talents are wasted on a fairly drippy, quite dour character.
Justin Kirk especially suffers by comparison to his on-screen sister, played by Gillian Anderson who gets to inject some much needed humour and bite to the proceedings. She's in it for all-too-short a time and she does appear to have walked in off a much more energetic, not to mention funny, film but she's clearly enjoying herself and she elevates the film a good 50% while she's in it.
Sadly, the minute that Anderson leaves, everything goes back to being the well-mannered, pleasant bore that it was previously. Worse, the final act goes from being merely dull to somewhat grating as the characters and their actions become less and less believable, as the film ends up tying its loose ends with far too tidy, and too tight a bow.
Mr Morgan's Last Love may well work on TV as perfectly distracting entertainment for a rainy, Sunday afternoon but it's far too inert to bother with on the big screen. A film focusing on Gillian Anderson's character, however, now that might be something else entirely...
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