Our Score: 2.5 out of 5 stars
By all accounts My Old Lady has had successful runs in its various stage iterations, so how does it hold up as a film? Unfortunately it’s something of a mixed bag. Director Horovitz, adapting his own play to this film, seeks to open up his three person play by adding some supporting characters, not to mention the actual gorgeous Parisian background, but the film itself never seems to rise above it’s central contrivance and weighty melodrama.
Kevin Kline plays Mathias Gold, a failed novelist from America coming to France to claim and sell a gorgeous Paris apartment that he’s inherited from his dead father. The catch on this particular flat is it comes pre-packed with the elderly Mathilde (Maggie Smith) under a French real estate arrangement known as a “viager”. Under this arrangement, the elderly tenant collects an annuity from the buyer so long as they live. Basically the buyer pays less on the place should the seller of the property pass away sooner rather than later. Naturally this makes Mathias’s introduction to Mathilde quite awkward. Complicating matters is Mathilde’s live-in grown daughter, Chloe (Kristen Scott Thomas in her third outing as Smith’s daughter) who naturally dislikes a disgruntled American with a vested interest in her mother’s death.
The film is stronger in its earlier acts with Mathias and Mathilde engaging in their subtle battle of wills–“to long life” she quips when toasting at dinner. Meanwhile Mathias schemes behind her back by investigating her medical records and whisking away furniture to pawn as an alternate way to turn a profit. He also engages in some minor blackmail against Chloe who, as it turns out, is also a woman damaged by her parents’ indiscretions. Kline is infinitely more charming when playing at being a scoundrel rather than when he’s saddled with lengthy monologues later in the film likely lifted directly from the play.
And here is where the film begins to wade into melodrama. Of course Mathilde’s lengthy stay in the flat of Mathias’s absentee father can only give way to a past affair whose shock waves were felt by both Mathias and Chloe on either side of the Atlantic. And as the film’s cast is essentially this trio, you can probably already guess who Mathias and Chloe will turn to when the revelations come pouring in.
I do give credit to Horovitz’s script which, if anything is unusual for using Paris as the backdrop of what is by all accounts the fallout of a long past love affair rather than the setting for the impassioned blooming of a youthful one. Additionally it is not often in film when we get to see older skilled actors such as Scott Thomas and Kline forge a romance however one wishes it didn’t come with quite so much baggage.