When in doubt, call Michael Caine. Thanks to one of his most compelling performances in years, a routine May-December romance called Last Love seems only half as slow and inconsequential as it really is. At 80, the snowy-haired veteran could have walked through it in a trance, but he’s a pro to the end, welcome as a favorite uncle and solid as Sears.
He plays Matthew Morgan, a retired American philosophy professor living in Paris after the death of his wife (Jane Alexander, in flashbacks). Mr. Morgan is a stiff and formal old codger who feels life has played out its final scene and offers nothing more in the way of a future. Enter Pauline, a friendly and compassionate young woman played by the sensible, vital French actress Clémence Poésy. From their first random meeting on a crowded bus, the movie fails to explain why a vibrant and attractive dance instructor becomes so fascinated by this starchy senior citizen. Adding to his gloomy disposition are his grown children, Miles (the always excellent, underrated Justin Kirk) and Karen (Gillian Anderson), a pair of disagreeable siblings with no affection for their father or each other. After Mr. Morgan’s admission to the hospital following a sad suicide attempt, both children arrive in Paris like storm clouds, critical and disapproving of his friendship with a girl young enough to be his granddaughter. But Pauline sticks by her new friend, who represents a makeshift family and surrogate father, to the annoyance of his real children. For four minutes short of two hours, nothing happens, and by the time Mr. Morgan (he’s always referred to as “Mr.”) gets around to starting a brand new revitalizing chapter in his empty life by proposing marriage, Pauline has fallen in love with the haughty, verbally abusive Miles, and everyone is left alone in a cliché-riddled and highly unsatisfactory ending.
The Sturm und Drang is accompanied and enlivened by gorgeous shots of Paris that substitute for the charm that is missing elsewhere. And it’s a real pleasure to share some quality time with Mr. Caine as an old man wise enough to know there’s rarely any such thing as a second time around but brave enough to take a chance anyway. But the writing and direction by Sandra Nettelbeck barely support his forceful presence. Last Love is supposed to be a tender film about loss, friendship and family that takes a poignant look at the terrible things people do to each other while competing for love. But without an edge, the movie raises a lot of questions that it fails to answer. You don’t want a sequel to this one.
Directed by: Sandra Nettelbeck
Written by: Sandra Nettelbeck
Starring: Gillian Anderson, Clémence Poésy and Michael Caine
Running time: 116 min.