My Old Lady movie review (London Film Festival)

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My Old Lady green light

A bitterly funny pas de trois character dramedy performed by three compulsively watchable actors.
I’m “biast” (pro): love the cast

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

I have not read the source material

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Kevin Kline’s “old lady” is not what you might perhaps be expecting. He’s a New Yorker who comes to Paris to check out the apartment his recently deceased French father has left him only to discover that Maggie Smith is living there. Turns out his dad got the place on the cheap many years earlier thanks to a peculiar quirk of Parisian real estate: the purchase was such a bargain because it was a viager, which entitles the former owner to continue living in the property and get paid a sort of reverse-mortgage by the new owner until the seller dies. Well, it’s a great bargain if the seller dies relatively soon after selling, but Smith’s (Quartet) Mathilde has hung on for decades, has outlived her buyer, and, at 90-odd, show no sign of kicking off… much to the consternation of Kline’s (The Conspirator) Mathias, who is in dire financial straits and was counting on selling the place, which is in the highly desirable Marais and is now worth a literal fortune. But not only can’t he sell, he now owes Mathilde her monthly reverse rent in just a few days.

Written and directed by Israel Horovitz, based on his own play, this is a bitterly funny pas de deux butting of heads performed by two compulsively watchable actors. Well, three, actually: Mathias’ plan to squeeze whatever money he can out of the place gets complicated by the fact that Mathilde’s daughter, Chloé (Kristin Scott Thomas: The Invisible Woman), also lives in the apartment, and she is far less inclined to be as generous as her mother, who has agreed to let Mathias stay in one of the empty rooms in the huge, rambling place. So call it a pas de trois. I was very happy to watch Kline, Smith, and Scott Thomas snark and snap their way wherever they wanted to take us: his desperation is funny in a raw, painful way; Smith makes Mathilde’s sangfroid at the surprises life brings somehow simultaneously charming and withering; and Scott Thomas is all flinty disdain for this American who has just barged in where he has no right to be.

I’m tempted to just let snippets of Horovitz’s wonderfully cutting dialogue sell this delicious character dramedy on their own: Mathias’s “I was born with a silver knife in my back” is one of my favorites, and gives you a sense of the tone. But I don’t want to spoil all the laughs. Nor the tears, either. Because of course there are secrets to be uncovered and personal discoveries to be made that will change all three and their relationship by the time it’s over. That ending comes far too quickly.

viewed during the 58th BFI London Film Festival

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Mon, Nov 24, 2014 11:33pm

See? *This* is why I read and love your column, even when I disagree with you. You also bring me news of things that no one else is covering. I can’t wait to see it.

Fri, Nov 28, 2014 10:12pm

I just watched HOOK again recently (Yes, I’m sorry) and it was fun to see a 56 or 57 year old Maggie Smith playing a REALLY old Grandma Wendy. Today, 23 years later, she looks her age and wears it really well–hear that poor Hollywood leading ladies who allow plastic surgeons to erase your hard-earned wrinkles (and personality).

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Beowulf
Sat, Nov 29, 2014 8:50am

Hollywood has absolutely no use for women’s wrinkles… or personalities.