My Old Lady Dir. Israel Horovitz

[Cohen Media Group; 2014]

Styles: drama, comedy
Others: Sunshine, Greenberg, Groundhog Day

The Paris featured in My Old Lady, Israel Horowitz’s latest film, is not the glowing romantic city of lights featured in other films like French Kiss or Midnight in Paris. Instead, Paris is gloomy and overcast, setting the tone for this story about lost childhood and the mistakes of parenthood. A dimly lit apartment filled with relics of the past sets the stage for this film about coming to terms with one’s own dark personal history.

Matthias (played by Kevin Kline) arrives in Paris hoping to cash in on a prime real estate apartment in Paris he recently inherited from his estranged father. To his shock and dismay, he discovers that he has also inherited, as part of a French property contract, the inhabitant, an elderly woman named Mathilde (Maggie Smith) who has been living there for the past several decades with her daughter Chloé (Kristin Scott Thomas). Under the terms of the contract, called a viager, the buyer purchases a property for a small sum and then pays the seller a monthly fee. Additionally, the buyer must allow the seller to continue living in the property until after he or she dies. As Matthias desperately attempts to sell off the apartment and unload its occupants, he begins to unravel secrets from his past, and in the process opens himself to a new romance with the initially icy and defensive Chloé.

Director and screenwriter Israel Horowitz first created My Old Lady as a script for theater and later adapted it for the screen. Perhaps this is why the sets are limited to a few locations and much of the film features talking heads. In spite of the award-winning cast, the characters are simply not believable enough for us to feel much empathy for them. Matthias is an obscene caricature of an obnoxious American in Europe and spends much of his screen-time intoxicated. He appears to have so few redeeming qualities that it seems too much to ask the audience to root for him — or to believe that Chloé, his romantic interest, goes from cold to hot in the last quarter or the film.

Stories such as My Old Lady, in which an immature man gets the girl, seem to be abundant in cinema — take Greenberg, 40 Year Old Virgin, or Ground Hog Day — but at least in the latter the audience can see Bill Murray’s character working to earn the woman’s affection. In My Old Lady, the only clue as to why one would choose to enter a relationship with Matthias is that his love interest is as broken and emotionally-stunted as he is. Chloe, who has never left home, and carries the baggage of a damaged childhood and appears to be the only person who can understand Matthias.

Some praise is due to Horowitz for creating a film that stands apart from most romantic films, in that it is about an older couple looking to start their lives anew rather than the more common onscreen couple that is young and in their physical prime. Instead of offering the viewer an escapist romantic situation to live through vicariously, the director has decided to tell a story about imperfect people falling in love. In spite of dwelling on skeletons in the closet for most of the film, My Old Lady ends on a high note — a new beginning for people who previously felt that life was already over. As the 92 year old Mathilde says to the 57 year old Matthias, “You have life left! There is no greater wealth!”

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