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film review: my old lady

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I was absolutely overjoyed when I was offered the chance to review My Old Lady. I think it was because I could get a credit on my resume out of the 2 hours of my life that otherwise would have been written off. That’s not true, those 2 hours weren’t a write off; I considered them an invaluable asset to my career as a screenwriter, as they proved a crash course in How Not To Write A Movie You Want People To Stay The Duration For.

Let me paint a picture for you. As I entered the cinema, my suspicions about this films target demographic (it’s called My Old Lady, after all) were confirmed: my mother and I were the youngest by 20 and 50 years respectively, at least. The seats were uncomfortable, the synopsis sounded dull, but my Nan got free tickets, so here we were. We also got a free choc top, so already the experience was a fairly successful one.

We open on the streets of Paris, and I was disappointed to realise that’s Kevin Kline playing the lead, Mathias. He’s your stock-standard 50-something writer whom the film follows to his “new start” apartment that he inherited from his estranged father, only to find that there’s the titular old lady living there: Mathilde, played by the couldn’t-get-more-English-if-you-tried Maggie Smith. We find out that Mathilde was born in England and moved to Paris 70 years ago, but is still so English it hurts. And of course there’s her daughter, Chloe (Kristen Scott Thomas) whose French is fluent, but when she speaks English, she has an English accent. Chloe, I should point out, has always lived in Paris, has a French father and a French lover, but yeah, she’s British.

So Kevin Kline’s character, Mathias who calls himself Jim (but whom we’ll call Kevin), is frustrated about the old lady living in his house because he wants to sell it. He feels no sentimental connection to it! Shock horror!

Over the course of this 107 minute film, Chloe and Kevin bond over their mutual detachment from their parents, find out that her mother and his father were in love, and then suffer existential crises together. The whole time we’re pretty sure she’s his sister. Then he’s pretty sure she’s his sister, but he has sex with her anyway. Maggie Smith nearly dies but doesn’t. Kevin Kline contemplates suicide, then sings. Kristen Scott Thomas cries a lot and yells. And the audience thinks that they’re watching a rejected, movie length pilot for a reboot of Dynasty in Paris.

The script was rather woeful, and the writer/director Israel Horovitz, whose background is in theatre (and wrote the play on which the film is based), has no idea how to employ cinematic tools, meaning that any moment that could have been entertaining was lost in strange POVs. Even with so little to work with, I expected more from the actors. My guess is that they were paid well, because they clearly had no emotional investment in the story. Their characters were completely one dimensional, incipit caricatures with no agency at all.

My Nan fell asleep a lot, and snored, and I jabbed her a few times, but after a while I thought she deserved a nap. When the film was over, everyone, and I mean every-one in the cinema sighed in relief. Films whose target audience is people not long for this world should really enrich their lives in some way, instead of suck it out of them.

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