You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Toronto Film Review: ‘My Old Lady’

Kevin Kline, Maggie Smith and Kristin Scott Thomas give fine performances in this clunky Ibsen-lite drama.

Kevin Kline, Maggie Smith, Kristin Scott Thomas, Dominique Pinon, Noemie Lvovsky, Stephane Freiss. (English, French dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2908856/

Parental failures, lingering filial resentments and obscure French real-estate laws are placed under the microscope in veteran playwright Israel Horovitz’s debut feature, “My Old Lady,” with only the latter yielding any novel discoveries. Handsomely mounted across some well-chosen Parisian locations, and featuring effortlessly professional performances from Kevin Kline, Maggie Smith and Kristin Scott Thomas, this often clunky Ibsen-lite drama could be a respectable arthouse earner, especially among older auds, though its translation from stage to screen looks to have been a bit rocky, and the film never manages to transcend its actors-workshop aura and develop into something deeper.

Adapted by Horovitz from his own 2002 play, “My Old Lady” stars Kline as New Yorker Mathias Gold, a depressed recovering alcoholic without a penny in the bank to show for his three unpublished novels, or an ounce of affection to show for his three failed marriages. Upon the death of his detested businessman father, Mathias learns he’s been cut out of the will save for a few old books and a multimillion-Euro apartment in Paris, which he hopes to sell to finance a new lease on life.

When he arrives in France, however, Mathias finds 94-year-old Madame Girard (Smith) living in the apartment, with some unwelcome news: Mathias’ father bought the apartment from her via France’s unusual viager equity scheme, wherein a buyer makes a down payment on a property, then agrees to pay the seller a monthly stipend and allow them to live there for the rest of their life. In other words, buyers wager on the prompt death of the seller in order to score cheap digs  and considering Madame Girard’s obvious vitality, it’s a bet that Mathias appears to be losing.

This strange policy could have easily provided the basis for an Agatha Christie murder mystery or a black comedy, but in Horovitz’s hands, it mostly just charts the course for a marathon of spleen venting and highly verbose angst. Pleading his wretchedness, Mathias convinces Madame Girard to let him stay in a spare room while he collects his bearings, much to the consternation of her daughter Chloe (Thomas), who also inhabits the Versailles-sized abode.

While it starts off with a certain sense of mischief (a scene in which Mathias pays an undercover visit to Madame Girard’s physician has a nice tinge of cruel wit), “My Old Lady” gradually becomes the type of chamber piece wherein one can roughly calculate the remaining running time by triangulating which characters have yet to face off in an orgy of angry recriminations. As a mudslide of family secrets starts to roll downhill, Madame Girard is forced to admit that her encounters with Mathias’ father went further than simple property transactions; Chloe struggles to break off a relationship with a married man, with which Mathias stages a rather lame blackmail attempt; and Mathias begins consorting with an oleaginous real-estate developer (Stephane Freiss), who wants to bulldoze the apartment to build a garish luxury hotel.

Confronted with Madame Girard’s impressive wine cellar, Mathias also promptly falls off the wagon, revealing himself to be not only a mean drunk, but also an incredibly windy one. With bottle in hand, he rages mightily to anyone who will listen, bemoaning his sad lot in life when he’s not mercilessly needling his temporary housemates or randomly quoting Yeats.

Kline’s performance is exciting to watch as a display of finely honed actorly craft  he tackles Horovitz’s often overwrought monologues with full Shakespearean brio  but rarely does his miserable character elicit much empathy or connect on a believable human level. Smith is as watchable as ever, especially as she plays the only character here who’s allowed to have any fun, while Thomas essays her role with a good deal of class and restraint, although her character’s motivations remain nebulous.

The author of more than 70 plays, the 75-year-old Horovitz exhibits a tasteful stateliness in his maiden voyage behind the camera, latching onto an agreeable rhythm that nonetheless lacks much of a spark. He does well to open up the play with jaunts around Paris, however, and production designer Pierre-Francois Limbosch furnishes the central apartment with just the right degree of clutter and disrepair.

Toronto Film Review: 'My Old Lady'

Reviewed at Pacific Design Center, West Hollywood, Aug. 27, 2014. (In Toronto Film Festival  Special Presentations.) MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 107 MIN.

Production: A Cohen Media Group release presented with BBC Films in association with Protagonist Pictures and Tumbledown Prods. of a Cohen Media Group, Deux Chevaux/Katsize Films production in association with Krasnoff/Foster Entertainment. Produced by Rachael Horovitz, Gary Foster, Nitsa Benchetrit, David C. Barrot. Executive producers, Christine Langan, Joe Oppenheimer, Charles C. Cohen, Daniel Battsek, Mike Goodridge, Israel Horovitz, Raphael Benoliel, Russ Krasnoff.

Crew: Directed, written by Israel Horovitz, from his play. Camera (color), Michel Amathieu; editors, Stephanie Ahn, Jacob Craycroft; music, Mark Orton; production designer, Pierre-Francois Limbosch; costume designer, Jacqueline Bouchard; sound, Jean-Paul Mugel; supervising sound editor, Mariusz Glabinski; re-recording mixer, Martin Czembor.

With: Kevin Kline, Maggie Smith, Kristin Scott Thomas, Dominique Pinon, Noemie Lvovsky, Stephane Freiss. (English, French dialogue)

More Film

  • Glass Movie

    'Glass' to Rank in Top 3 MLK Debuts With $48 Million

    M. Night Shyamalan’s “Glass” is on its way to a solid debut with an estimated $48 million for the four-day Martin Luther King Jr. weekend. A sequel to 2000’s “Unbreakable” and 2016’s “Split,” the Universal superhero thriller should bring in around $41 million from 3,841 domestic locations over the Friday through Sunday period. The estimates are [...]

  • China's 'Three Adventures of Brooke' to

    China's 'Three Adventures of Brooke' to Hit French Theaters (EXCLUSIVE)

    Midnight Blur Films has signed a deal with French distributor Les Acacias to release Chinese arthouse drama “Three Adventures of Brooke” in France this year, the Chinese production company told Variety on Saturday. A release date has yet to be set for the film, which premiered at the Venice Film Festival and stars Chinese newcomer Xu Fangyi [...]

  • Noe Debre On His Directorial Debut,

    Top French Screenwriter Noe Debre Makes Directorial Debut, ‘The Seventh Continent’

    This last half-decade, few French screenwriters have run up such an illustrious list of co-write credits as Noé Debré. Thomas Bedigain’s writing partner on Jacques Audiard’s Cannes Palme d’Or winner “Deephan,” Debra co-penned Bedigain’s own debut, “The Cowboys,” “Racer and the Jailbird,” by Michael Roskam, and “Le Brio,” directed by Yvan Attal. He has now [...]

  • Julien Trauman Talks Survival-Thriller Short ‘At

    Julien Trauman on Survival-Thriller Short ‘At Dawn’

    France’s Julien Trauman has never been afraid to play with genre, and in his latest short, the MyFrenchFilmFestival participant “At Dawn,” he employs aspects of psychological thriller, survival, coming-of-age and fantasy filmmaking. “At Dawn” kicks off the night before when a group of teens, one about to leave town, are imbibing heavily around a beach-side [...]

  • ‘Flowers’ Director Baptiste Petit-Gats Interview

    Baptiste Petit-Gats: ‘Editing Taught Me How to Write for Film’

    France’s Baptiste Petit-Gats is an hyphenate that keeps himself plenty busy editing, photographing, writing and directing. The bulk of his editing gigs up until now have been in documentary film work, evident in the way he shot and edited his own short film, participating in the MyFrenchFilmFestival, “Flowers.” In the film, Petit-Gats tells the heartbreaking [...]

  • Fanny Litard, Jérémy Trouilh on ‘Blue

    France’s Fanny Liatard, Jérémy Trouilh Discuss MyFFF Suburban Fable ‘Blue Dog’

    French filmmakers Fanny Liatard and Jérémy Trouilh met at university while studying political science before diverging towards separate careers. Trouilh trained in documentary filmmaking; Liatard worked on urban artistic projects in Lebanon and France. They eventually joined back up to film three shorts: “Gagarine,” a Sundance Channel Shorts Competition Jury Prize winner in 2016; “The [...]

  • MFFF: 'The Collection' Director Blanchard Readies

    'The Collection' Director Emmanuel Blanchard Readies First Feature

    Paris-born Emmanuel Blanchard studied and then taught history before becoming a documentary filmmaker responsible for films such as “Bombing War,” “Le diable de la République” and “Après la guerre.” He’s currently directing “Notre-Dame de Paris”, a 90-minute animated part-doc, part-fiction film on the building of the world-famous Paris cathedral. Competing at MyFFF, “The Collection” is [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content