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MY OLD LADY – Review

November 18, 2014

Film + Entertainment | by Francesco Cerniglia


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Israel Horovitz, a veteran playwright, forays into film by adapting one of his better known plays, My Old Lady. Despite the story’s intriguing premise, the cast involved, and Horovitz’s theatric mind, My Old Lady doesn’t quite manage to lift off ground, resulting in a muddled experience unable to engage its audience. After premiering at the BFI London Film Festival last month, Horovitz’s feature debut arrives now in UK cinemas.

Mathias (Kevin Kline) is broke, unsuccessful and a recovering alcoholic. His father just passed away and left Mathias a house in Paris. Seeing it as a chance to make some money and as a key for a better life, Mathias travels to Europe only to find a surprise: his new estate is occupied by an elderly lady, Mathilde Girard (Maggie Smith), and her daughter, Chloé (Kristin Scott Thomas). Despite his intent, Mathias is not able to expel Mathilde, as she is a viage – a live-in tenant who is entitled to collect monthly rent from the landlord.

Marketed as a comedy, My Old Lady doesn’t deliver many laughs. Instead, it is a thoughtful and insightful look into its characters. Playing out much like a play, most of the action is set inside the house, with a few excursions to the local real estate agent and strolls around Paris. Horovitz gives plenty of room for scenes to breathe, which slows down the pace considerably – arguably too much. This is matched with a distinctly French accordion-led soundtrack.

The cast, possibly with the exception of Kevin Kline, is perfect. Maggie Smith keeps on steaming onwards, delighting audiences with deep character portrayals. Although Mathilde isn’t an epitome of morality or good choices, she manages to make her character likeable, and provides much needed gags for the audience in expense of her old age. Kristin Scott Thomas on the other hand gets an opportunity to showcase her versatility as an actress, seamlessly switching between French and English, and by putting up a fight to Mathias. Dominique Pinon pops up as the friendly realtor and as the ‘face of France’.

Mathias is the backbone of the film. His misfortunes and internal struggles are stem from his childhood, which is something he never was able to let go of. Blaming his father for everything, he was never able to make much out of himself. There is a lot of ground to cover with the character, especially when revelations spring up in Paris. Unfortunately, Kevin Kline isn’t able to deliver.

His portrayal of Mathias, the man with a troubled soul, is excessively theatrical, which does not cross over well into the screen. Kline appears over-the-top and his monologues lack credibility. This makes it hard to believe the anguish Mathias is experiencing.

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Israel Horovitz’s My Old Lady is a serious film with serious themes geared towards an older audience who are more likely to look over the film’s slow pacing and overt theatrics. As directorial debuts go, it is a hit-and-miss, but a promising one should Horovitz decide to return to the silver screen.

My Old Lady is released in UK cinemas on November 21st

Sean Ryan