My Old Lady
Noted playwright Israel Horovitz (Author, Author) directs an adaptation of his play "My Old Lady" starring the iconic Maggie Smith and Kevin Kline. The story of a man (Kevin Kline) spiritually at sea, starts out as a farce involving a older woman who comes with a spacious Parisian apartment complex, and grows more intense despite some over the top melodrama that gives mixed results.
A down and out Mathias (Kline) hopes to get back on his feet financially by selling his inherited Paris property. Mathilde (Smith) is the headstrong lady who has a lifetime occupancy on the property. To put wrenches into an already unattractive economic situation, Matilde's off-putting daughter Chloe (Kirsten Scott Thomas) also lives in residence.
Kevin Kline does wonderfully with some zany antics in the mode of his performance as Otto in "A Fish Called Wanda" with plenty of sarcasm and exaggerated hyperbole in stubbornness. Mathias is also quirkily self-deprecating and offhand, which gives his role a more believable flavor. Maggie Smith is predictably entertaining too, as a very opinionated and zesty older lady although this is no great stretch for her.
What starts as a madcap dilemma quickly deepens into a boozy Sturm und Drang when it is revealed that Matilde had a near lifetime romance with Mathias' father. Kline is very watchable and endlessly smooth as the snarky schemer quick to pull the wool over Matilde's eyes. With such moments the film almost reaches the fun found in Frank Oz's "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels." Provocative also are Mathias's maudlin zingers when he blames Mathilde for his family drama.
During the height of the yelling, however, "My Old Lady" feels like "August: Osage County" with Edward Albee waiting off camera. Kline is much better as a gonzo alliterative punster than a indignant sad sack. The shifts in emotional color make the film seem like two narratives in one, and the farcical segments hold more gusto than the ones with heavy pathos.
Given that the playwright Horovitz was close friends with Samuel Beckett (there is a quote by famed Beckett in the film), one wishes for a less formulaic narrative that owes more to the genre of romantic comedy than a character study. The conventions of hugging and kissing at the finish of some scenes make this cinematic lunch into a small salade verte rather than a satisfying nicoise.
That said, you will not be bored. There is enough ramble in Kline and Smith to keep you on The Left Bank.
A colorful outing is delivered by the gifted character actor Dominique Pinon, who plays an existentially joyful bohemian realtor who lives on a barge along The Seine.
Despite a couple of handwringing reservations, "My Old Lady" honestly seduces in its charm with stunning locales of Parisian streets. The savory cinematography by Michel Amathieu (Paris Je t'aime) rivals Darius Khondji's work in "Midnight in Paris".
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