MY OLD LADY
Cohen Media Group
Reviewed for Shockya by Harvey Karten. Data-based on Rotten Tomatoes
Director: Israel Horovitz
Screenplay: Israel Horovitz
Cast: Kevin Kline, Maggie Smith, Kristin Scott Thomas
Screened at: Review 1, NYC, 8/28/14
Opens: September 10, 2914
It’s difficult to believe that Israel Horovitz wrote the screenplay for the 1970 movie “The Strawberry Statement.” While it’s not unusual for a scripter to have a long, successful life (after all wrote this forty-four years ago and he’s still going strong), but considering that “Strawberry” was a big-budget movie about the late sixties riots at Columbia University, one that showed radical students breaking windows and, I believe, smoking the dean’s cigars, that seems too much in the mainstream for the prolific playwright. Author of over 70 published plays, Horovitz is an institution. Anyone who passes an off-off-Broadway theater in New York’s Greenwich Village notes that his play “Line” which is featured at the 13th Street theater since 1974, is the longest running play ever in Manhattan. Why? It’s an absurdist tome about five people waiting in line for an event. One might wonder whether the theater has only two or four seats for such a non-commercial venture to be such a success.
Yet in a recent interview, Horovitz stated that his favorite play is “My Old Lady,” which sound like a good come-on for a movie that is opening September 10th in New York, though I for one would not consider it to be in the same league as such absorbing work as his “The Indian Wants the Bronx,” a rock-‘em, sock-‘em action drama about a fellow, Gupta, just arrived from India, who is being teased by two punks while he is waiting for a bus. Rage and violence ensure, making this 1968 one-act job still relevant today.
“My Old Lady” does not feature much physical action, and as you watch it on the big screen, you’ll have no problem figuring that it was meant to be played on the stage. It’s essentially a three-hander, with a real-estate agent thrown in, about an unhappy 57-year-old, Mathias “Jim” Gold (Kevin Kline) whose dad had died, leaving Mathias with a house in Paris. The trouble is that under French law, since someone had been living there for years, that someone being 92-year-old Mathilde Girard (Maggie Smith), the new owner must wait until the tenant dies before he can assume full title. Yet he is eager to sell the digs since he has no money, having given up his U.S. flat and spending literally his last bucks on the plane trip.
Carrying all his possessions in a single bag, he is surprised to find Mathile living in the apartment, a tack-sharp elderly woman who allows him to stay over if he would pay rent. What’s more her daughter, Chloé Girard (Kristin Scott Thomas) is underfoot as well. As with many a play, the three characters at first do not get along, but Horovitz is determined to write them a nice resolution, a Hollywood ending, making the playwright and now film scripter apart from the more pessimistic scribes like Samuel Beckett (whom he quotes near the conclusion).
What Mathias learns shocks him, and I don’t believe a journalist has the right to take away the surprise from the audience by announcing the principal spoiler. Once you get past the plot, you’ve got to admire the performances, because they’re all by pros in the business. Maggie Smith has made a career of playing elderly women for quite a while, never the stereotype biddie who wiles her time playing bingo. Her character have a sharp tongue, as when in one previous work she reveals her distaste for Americans—especially those who take a perfectly good scoop of vanilla ice cream and add whipped cream, a banana and cherries. “Americans: they vulgarize everything.” And Kevin Kline, whose mere presence can evoke a smile from the audience, runs the gamut of emotions in “My Old Lady,” from confusion to dismay to suicidal thoughts, to a resolution and happiness. This leaves Kristen Scott Thomas as the protector of her mother, the seductress of a marriage man with children, an unhappy teacher of English who ultimately blossoms under the influence of this strange American.
Save for a revelation that is not quite believable, there is little melodrama in “My Old Lady,” just an involving tranche de vie about life and love in the City of Lights.
Rated PG-13. 107 minutes. © 2014 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B