Film #142: My Old Lady (2014)

molDirector: Israel Horovitz
Languages: English and French
Length: 107 minutes
Watched on: 7 Jan 2014

This was the last film I watched while I still had time to kill on the way back to Japan this January. It had a good review, as far as I could tell, but I want really sure what to expect from it.

In the story, Maggie Smith plays an old French lady, and the American main character inherits her house from his father – but he also inherits the strange and uniquely French viager arrangement, which means he only has the right to the house after she does, and until then has to pay for her pension, or something. It seems like a very strange system to me.

The film is adapted from a play, and this shows: in particular, it’s heavy on the dialogue and features three characters – and the setting, though it’s important that it’s Paris, is entirely incidental. But I think that it was adapted fairly well, despite being blatantly theatrical – perhaps it helps that the director of the movie also wrote the play. It’s also deft in the way it sets up narrative expectations early on and fulfils them later. Character is a recovering alcoholic? Guess what he drinks in act two! Character’s origins or relationships are unclear? We’d better get to unearthing them, then! Chekov’s gun is very much in full force in this movie.

The acting is pretty good too. I can’t remember who the main guy is – perhaps I hadn’t heard of him before. But Maggie Smith is definitely strong in this movie, and I’m starting to feel like it wouldn’t be a French movie about sad middle-aged people without Kristin Scott Thomas – she’s really carved out a niche for herself.

But that leads me to my main problem with the movie: although it’s leagues ahead of the second-rate American comedy of This Is Where I Leave You, the main subject matter is almost exactly the same: the main character’s father dies, and as a result, he goes through a midlife crisis. For me personally, I think I need a bit more life experience in order to relate to it.

That said, I think this movie, unlike the last one, is good enough to recommend. Just be sure you’re happy with saying something solidly theatrical and you should be fine with this. Oh, and if I remember correctly, there are no subtitles, and while you don’t need French to appreciate this film, as it’s told from the point of view of the monolingual American character, it probably helps. It’s not for everyone, I suppose.

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