My Old Lady won me over completely with its unique plot, impressive performances and marvelous dialogue. Although the title may be a bit off-putting, please don’t let that stop you from seeing this splendid independent film. Merely watching Kevin Kline and Maggie Smith banter together on screen guarantees your enjoyment. Then when Kristin Scott Thomas slips into the mix, your pleasure increases. Just like Kline’s recent The Last of Robin Hood, this well-made dramedy boasts a perfect acting trifecta.
Kline portrays Mathias Gold, a lonely American who goes to Paris to sell the huge apartment he’s inherited from his father. Mathias desperately needs the money from this sale. But when he arrives at the residence, he finds someone already living there. It’s Mathilda Girard (Smith), a 90-year-old English woman, who sold the apartment many years ago under an agreement that the buyer pay her a certain amount each month until she dies. What will Mathias do about this surprising development? Adding to his problem, the old lady’s daughter Chloe (Scott Thomas) also lives in the apartment and is extremely over-protective toward her aged mother.
The emotional journey these characters travel together ranges from shock, anger and dismay to empathy, acceptance and love. But the road getting there includes plenty of obstacles. Thanks to writer/director Israel Horovitz (Author! Author!), that journey is fascinating to witness. Plus, it’s such a treat to hear witty dialogue like “I was born with a silver knife in my back!” -- which Mathias utters when explaining his estranged relationship with his father.
In playing Mathias, Kline must convince us of the man’s dramatic change as the story progresses. He has to make his character unlikable -- yet interesting and sadly romantic -- through most of the movie. Mathias’ hidden warmth cannot emerge too early so that when the change finally comes, a welcome feeling of relief will wash over us. The multi-talented actor totally succeeds with this difficult acting task. Scott Thomas (Salmon Fishing in the Yemen) also passes the “unlikeability-and-change” challenge. It’s clear both Chloe and Mathias have serious unresolved issues regarding their parents. Smith (Quartet), simply by her decrepit appearance, earns our sympathy right away. But there’s no one better than this accomplished actress at drawing viewers into her screen characters so quickly. That’s why we soon become intrigued with the intelligence and mystery of “Mathilda Girard.”
Mark Orton’s (Sweet Land) original music enhances almost every scene; cinematography by Michel Amathieu (Penelope) not only reflects the emotional ups and downs of the characters but also the subtle beauty of the film’s Paris setting; and Pierre Francois Limbosch’s (The Dancer Upstairs) art decoration helps us understand why Madame Girard doesn’t want to leave her Paris apartment.
My Old Lady ends with a lovely sequence reminiscent of An American in Paris, one of my favorite Gene Kelly musicals. Way to go, Israel Horovitz!
(Released by Cohen Media Group and rated “PG-13” for thematic material and some sexual references.)
For more information about My Old Lady, go to the IMDb or Rotten Tomatoes website.