Film Review: My Old Lady (2014)

“I do not see the wonder of you”

It doesn’t feel too much to ask for a film starring Dames Maggie Smith and Kristin Scott Thomas to be worthy of their talent but in My Old Lady, there’s a definite sense of squandering in the air. Written and directed by the American Israel Horovitz, and adapted from his own play, the film makes good use of its Paris location, deep in the Marais, but elsewhere lacks any real sense of justification.

Kevin Kline plays New Yorker Mathias, a recovering alcoholic and failed playwright who journeys to the French capital on learning his father has left him an apartment there in his will. The valuation of 12 million euros pleases him but the discovery of a sitting tenant in the form of Smith’s 92-year-old Mathilde does not. For his father bought the place as a viager, an archaic French legal curiosity that allows the previous owner to remain there ‘til they die, receiving a monthly stipend in lieu of the price of the house.

Mathilde has a daughter, Scott Thomas’ Chloé, who immediately takes a dislike to Mathias, setting up a dully predictable will-they-won’t-they-of-course-they-bloody-will chain of events and more fruitfully, hitherto unknown connections emerge between key characters. But it is so unsympathetically drawn that it is hard to care, Kline’s punctured pomposity is particularly difficult to stomach and remains hard to watch throughout. 

Scott Thomas relies a little too much on the frigid hauteur of which she is often accused and even the estimable Smith herself is hamstrung by little of substance to do aside from deliver a suite of waspish zingers. There’s sadly little real connection between the trio and the film suffers from a real uncertainty of tone as it disappears into its own tweeness. Disappointing.

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