“You’re my kind of girl!” smiles Dustin Hoffman to Emma Thompson in Joel Hopkins’ wistful romantic comedy, a declaration that isn’t quite the compliment it sounds.
For one thing, Dusty’s lovelorn Harvey Shine is a bit of a loser: a work-obsessed divorcé from New York who has reluctantly flown to London to see his estranged daughter Susan (Liane Balaban) tie the knot.
For another, so is Emma’s Kate – a put-upon spinster with a thankless job who spends her downtime caring for her scatty mother (Eileen Atkins). Small wonder that when they end up meeting at an airport bar, they should see enough of each other in themselves to spend an afternoon together swapping sorrows.
Most tear-jerking of all is Hoffman’s public acceptance of his own failings at his daughter’s wedding reception. Fans of the actor’s career might see parallels with The Graduate, another film in which he stole the show at someone else’s nuptials. But a more fitting comparison might be About Schmidt, Harvey’s reawakening to life’s possibilities and the importance of family mirroring Jack Nicholson’s similar realisation in every aspect bar the Winnebago.
Making his first movie since 2001’s Jump Tomorrow, Hopkins eases comfortably back into the director’s chair. The problem, arguably, is that Hoffman and Thompson aren’t the world’s most convincing couple. It’s not just the difference in accent or height – it’s also a matter of sensibilities, his morose self-pity an awkward fit with her self-deprecating self-consciousness.
Watching them circle around each other is like watching a koala try to mate with a giraffe – basically wrong, yet undeniably fascinating. Then again, it’s no more improbable than Atkins’ conviction that her Polish neighbour is a mass murderer.
Hoffman’s undimmed star power papers over the script cracks in an otherwise polished vehicle for his and Thompson’s talents. If nothing else, it’s worth taking a shine to Harvey for his father of the bride speech.