What it's about:
Mathias Gold (Kevin Kline), a misanthropic, alcoholic American arrives in Paris to sell the house he inherited from his estranged father only to find that, thanks to particularly complicated legal wrangling, the house comes with an old lady (Maggie Smith) and her middle-aged daughter (Kristin Scott Thomas) – both of whom not only get to live there until the old lady dies but who actually receive payment for living in the house from its owner. Aside for putting a serious dent in his plans to make a few bucks off the only real asset to his name, Mathias soon finds that these two strangers living in his father's home are not quite the strangers he thinks them to be.
What we thought:
You would think that a film that stars Kevin Kline, Maggie Smith and Kristin Scott Thomas in its leading roles would be something rather special – and you especially think that when you consider that it's written and directed by Israel Horovitz, based on his original and acclaimed stage play. Sadly, while there's a lot to admire about My Old Lady, it's saved, rather than bolstered by its A-grade talent.
Considering how rarely he acts these days, it's especially a real pleasure to see the massively talented, and quite underrated, Kevin Kline back on our screens and you couldn't find a surer pair of hands than Maggie Smith and Kristin Scott Thomas but, though Horovitz gives all three of them plenty to work with, they are let down by characters and a story that start off well enough but seriously start to grate long before the film slouches to its merciful conclusion.
The first half of the film is undoubtedly very enjoyable as its mix of caustic comedy, light drama and picturesque Paris locales make for an entertaining, if not massively memorable, confection. Sadly, around halfway through the film, deep and dark family secrets come to light and things get increasingly melodramatic, soap-opera-ish even, and these already borderline unlikeable characters quickly become utterly unbearable as their quite entertaining bitterness all too rapidly gives way to narcissistic, woe-is-me whining.
There may well be some interesting stuff mixed in about selfish love and complicated family bonds but it's all lost among the overwrought, self-indulgent whinging by its increasingly slappable characters. It's especially sad that the film devolves so thoroughly when you consider how nicely measured its first half is – and how much it had going for it going in.
Aside for its ludicrously talented cast, Horovitz also goes some way towards avoiding the biggest pitfall f most films based on plays by ensuring that, for all its dialogue-heavy scenes, the film maintains its cinematic sheen. Also, until its deadly mix of alcohol, family secrets and potential incest sends the whole things careering off track, the dialogue is deliciously biting and often laugh-out-loud funny.
Sadly, it does end up being all for naught as it wastes its brilliant cast and all the good will it engenders in its opening sections on an awful second half that leaves a seriously bad taste in the mouth long after you've left the cinema. Check it out for the performances, if you wish, but you'll end up liking the film a whole lot more if you leave after the first forty-five minutes.
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