Wednesday, October 01, 2014

My Old Lady

I was worried about missing this entirely while in Austin, and it looks like it's getting a third week. I don't know if it's a really great movie - watching it, I could never really ignore its flaws - but even with some pretty ill-advised maneuvering in the last few scenes, it works pretty well, and I could feel it having worked.

My Old Lady

* * * (out of four)
Seen 29 September 2014 in Landmark Kendall Square #4 (first-run, DCP)

I'd heard the story that likely inspired My Old Lady (and is retold within the movie) before, and I suspect that knowing it or just getting the gist of it from the start of the picture may give one the wrong impression of what sort of film it's going to be. It takes a while for the film to really find its feet, but it does eventually, the way one sort of figures it must with the cast it has.

The story in question involves a viager contract - an arrangement in France where an elderly person sells a property at a reduced price but can continue to reside there, also collecting an annuity, until he or she passes away. Sometimes, though, the tenant will actually outlive the buyer. That's the case here, as Mathias "Jim" Gold (Kevin Kline) arrives in Paris, not realizing that the spacious apartment he inherited from his father is still occupied by Mathilde Girard (Maggie Smith), over ninety but quite healthy, and he owes her 2400 euros per month. More than inconvenient, as he's penniless, and the apartment's other resident - Mathilde's daughter Chloe (Kristin Scott Thomas) takes an immediate dislike to him even before hearing he plans to sell to developer Fran├žois Roy (Stephane Freiss).

There's a heck of a black comedy to be made with this premise, and given that it sounds familiar beyond both versions of The Ladykillers, I suspect it already has been done. And, indeed, the film spends the first little bit twitching in that direction, establishing Jim as something of a scoundrel - with Chloe perhaps being kind of sneaky herself - while Mathilde almost seems to be taunting him with her gourmet meals and fine wine, blithely living a lifestyle that threatens to drain him. The potential for that sort of movie is clear, and that's why it initially seems disappointing - writer/director Israel Horovitz (adapting his own play) seems half-hearted, not really letting his cast go for the fat target he's placed in front of them.

Full review at EFC

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