My Old Lady

Directed by Israel Horovitz
Starring Kevin Kline, Maggie Smith, Kristin Scott Thomas
In UK Cinemas November 21st, 2014

by Amanda Farley

Mathias (Kevin Kline) is broke and broken but when his estranged father dies and leaves him a beautiful Paris apartment and a gold watch, it finally seems like his luck has changed. Using the last of his money he flies from New York to Paris, where he plans to sell the apartment and start again. There’s only one problem, this inheritance comes with the added addition of Mathilde (Maggie Smith) and her daughter Chloé (Kristin Scott Thomas). While he may technically own the apartment, it turns out that his father bought it as a “viager” – an ancient French system for buying and selling apartments – and he can’t sell it until Mathilde dies. Now completely broke and out of options, Mathias is forced to move into the apartment as a lodger, a setup which leads to some interesting personal discoveries and the unearthing of dark family secrets.

With its all-star cast My Old Lady is the directorial debut of renowned playwright Israel Horovitz. Throughout the film, Horovitz’s skill as a writer shines through. While he doesn’t do anything to redefine cinematic language, he does create a world populated with characters that feel real and painfully truthful. Each person has their own dark secrets and flaws and we follow them as they battle with themselves and each other to try and find some sense of resolve. The script also manages to successfully navigate that tricky space between comedy and tragedy. Kevin Kline is particularly adept at finding the right equilibrium between humour and tragedy in his role as a self-loathing divorcee recovering from alcoholism and haunted by memories of the past.

Maggie Smith and Kristin Scott Thomas are however never outshone by Kline’s brilliance. Smith brings a sense of likability to her role that could so easily be missing. Her ability to be truthful makes a dubious character completely relatable and allows us into Mathilde’s logic in a way many less talented actors never could. Meanwhile Scott Thomas has an air of vivacity and life that brings some much needed energy to this rather confined world. Her scenes with Kline are especially kinetic and their on screen connection brings a sense of depth that really helps highlight how the sins of the parents are visited upon the children.

While this film might not set the world alight, it does make for some compelling viewing.

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