Starring: Kevin Kline, Maggie Smith, Kristin Scott Thomas
Director: Israel Horovitz
Some poetry by Yeats is quoted during the course of this film (adapted and directed from his own successful stage play by Israel Horovitz) but they might have done better going with Philip Larkin’s ‘They fuck you up, your mum and dad.’ Because this wry three-hander turns out to be all about mummy and daddy issues.
Things start out in lightly comic vein with the penniless, down on his luck Mathias (Kevin Kline) arriving in Paris eager to take possession of a large apartment in the swanky Marais district that he has just inherited. Consternation reigns when he learns that a 90 year old named Mathilde (Maggie Smith) is stubbornly installed in it, and that for complicated reasons, not only is there no hope of getting her out other than feet first, but he also has to pay a monthly sum to keep her there. A guest in what ought to be his own home, he’s further humiliated by Mathilde’s hostile daughter Chloe (Kristin Scott Thomas), who does her best to drive him off.
All of this is good stuff, and Kline gets his most sympathetic role in years as the seedy Mathias, slyly selling off stuff from the junk room where he’s sleeping as a way of making ends meet as he tries to figure out what to do. Meanwhile, Horovitz – a first time film director at the age of 75 – shows a nice feel for a not quite picture postcard Paris. There are some especially charming scenes as Mathias strikes up a friendship with a philosophical Parisian estate agent (Dominique Pinon).
But the story darkens as traumatic family revelations emerge and Mathias’s daddy issues pour out in long speeches, which in turn provoke Chloe to stew over her own relationship with Mathilde. At this point the story teeters on the verge of the maudlin, while also clearly showing its stage play origins – Tennessee Williams with the Eiffel Tower instead of magnolias. Still, the combined skills of Kline, Smith and Scott Thomas ensure that My Old Lady is never less than a feast of smart, highly polished acting, served up with typically Parisian gusto. 7/10
A 10-min Q&A with the director, in which he talks about directing a film for the first time in his seventies. Luckily, his daughter happened to be a film producer… 6/10