Monday, September 8, 2014

Israel Horovitz's MY OLD LADY gives plum roles to three great actors in one sweet film

Say what you will about Israel Horovitz's feel-good rom-com-dramedy MY OLD LADY -- and I suspect that when the film opens this Friday, there will some very vociferous nay-sayers: The early ads for the film have taken to quoting critics such as yours truly, so clearly, they didn't have any famous "print" names to bandy about -- in this film, Mr. Horovitz's first major work as a director (he's best known as a playwright), he has brought together a well-nigh perfect cast and given it three plum roles to act in a tale that is almost sure to delight no end the forty-year-old-and beyond audience. The trials and tribulations going on here -- real estate and wills, parenting and parentage -- will be of no account to youngsters but prove catnip to most adults, particularly, I think, the senior crowd.

Horovitz, pictured at right, began this project using one of his plays, but as a movie director he has opened the play out so thoroughly and so well that anyone not knowing this guy's métier would never imagine that the tale began as a stage play. Horovitz has also set his contraption in Paris and made pretty good use of that fabulous place so that, visually, the movie is a constant treat. Even without the City of Light, with a cast this sterling -- which is used here spectacularly well -- you won't want to take your eyes off these marvelous performers for even a moment.

Of course, we're used to Maggie Smith (above), Kevin Kline (below) and Kristin Scott Thomas (further below), each offering first-class performances, but seldom are they given roles this plumb and then used in a manner both this obvious and this well. Watching the three play off each other is an absolute delight.

The story involves Mr. Kline as an American in Paris who has inherited from his estranged and now-dead father a rather large Parisian estate. What he finds when he arrives constitutes surprise after surprise after surprise.

Yet the plot is really rather simple, once the set-up is in place. But again, the performances breathe life and art into all they touch. The situation here is not an uncommon one where real estate in concerned. In fact, a good friend of mine found herself with a similar "cross to bear" some years back. But that was here in New York City. The French evidently have even more encompassing laws that protect the rights of those who find themselves in the situation occupied by the character played by Ms Smith.

In addition to this storied threesome, Horovitz (did he use a French casting director? I can find none credited on the IMDB) has cast some terrific French and Belgian actors -- including Dominique Pinon (below, left) as a local real estate agent, Noémie Lvovsky as the family doctor, and Stéphane De Groodt as the initial (and incorrect) love interest for Ms Scott Thomas -- all of whom shine.

As a film director Horovitz shows surprising promise late in his career. Scene after scene bubbles with enthusiasm and smarts, as he places his performers at precisely the right spot and then films them at their best. He is also subtler than I would have expected, and this is never better expressed than in his final scene. Here, in the far background, we catch sight of someone who remains in the far background and yet is so very present that we can rejoice in how beautifully and quietly the filmmaker has made perfect use of her, first to last.

OK: This film is a fairy tale of sorts. But fairy tales done well are among the very legitimate reasons so many of us still flock to cinema. These days, in particular (ISIS, anyone?).

From Cohen Media Group and running 104 lovely minutes, My Old Lady opens this Wednesday in New York (at the AMC Lincoln Square, Angelika, Bowtie Chelsea and Cinema 123) and  in Los Angeles (at The Landmark and the Arclight, Hollywood). Over the coming weeks it will open in cities across the country. You can find all currently scheduled playdates by clicking here and scrolling down a bit.

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