Director: Israel Horovitz (Sunshine, New York, I Love You)
Cast: Maggie Smith, Kevin Kline, Kristin Scott Thomas
Duration: 107 mins
Rating: M – Mature themes
Release Date: 13 November, 2014
They say it’s never too late to teach an old dog new tricks and that certainly appears to be the case with 75-year-old celebrated playwright turned cinematic writer/director Israel Horovitz, who makes his feature debut with My Old Lady, adapted from his own wildly successful stage show.
A kooky tale set in the heart of Paris’ bohemian Le Marais district, it stars Kevin Kline as Matthias, a depressed former alcoholic with three divorces and nary a cent to his name who finds himself down and out in Paris, though luckily, at least initially, also the brand new owner of a rather fabulous abode chock-full of vintage furniture and boasting a rare garden for such a central and much sought-after location.
The catch? The property was sold to Matthias’ estranged and now deceased father as part of a bizarre French legal contract known as a “viager,” whereby the current resident, the not so doddery 95-year-old Madame Girard, brought to wily life by the always wonderful Maggie Smith, has leave to remain until her death and is owed a monthly pay cheque to the tune of €2,400. Not best pleased, feeling like his father has hoodwinked him form beyond the grave, Matthias spirals downwards fast, hitting the bottle big time.
Further complicating matters, Madame Girard’s daughter Chloe, played by the magnificent Kristin Scott Thomas, shows up and is even less impressed by the new arrival with his designs on selling the place out from underneath them.
Playing out in a very theatrical way, this powerhouse trio seize our attentions willingly, papering over a few cracks with ease while with Horowitz keeps things just the right side of hysterical as Matthias moves into a spare bedroom and Chloe fires poisonous glares. Girard subtly shuffles the chess pieces in this fraught game of love and loathing as secret histories are gradually teased out, revealing the two younger tenants to have much more in common than they at first believe.
With a fair few unpredictable twists and a n avoidance, for the most part, of more overt romantic tropes, My Old Lady is a fascinating chamber piece, even if it is all a bit too rosy at the end after thoroughly raking up the dirt. Bonus points for the fabulous apartment at play in this high-stakes game.