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MY OLD LADY (review)

my_old_ladyMY OLD LADY
Written and directed by Israel Horovitz
Starring Kevin Kline, Maggie Smith and Kristen Scott Thomas

Mathilde: I’m ninety; subtlety is not something that interests me.

When you see that a film stars Kevin Kline and Maggie Smith, you might easily guess what that film would be like. Israel Horovitz’s MY OLD LADY, an adaptation of his play, begins as a pretty standard senior’s comedy. Surprisingly though, the film takes a dark turn halfway through, and goes from becoming a forgettable and mediocre film to a successful tragi-comedy.

Kline stars as Mathias Gold, a man in his late fifties who has just inherited an apartment in Paris from his father. The nearly broke Mathias sells his New York digs and heads to Paris to sulk in the residence he inherited. All seems well when he arrives, until he finds Mathilde Girard (Smith), a ninety-two-year-old women, living in one of the rooms in his new home. She refuses to leave, and legally she does not have to. This is where we learn of a strange French real estate sale called a viager. Many years prior, Mathias’ father purchased the building as a viager from Mathilde, which means that even though he owns the building, she can still live there and the owner must pay her rent until she dies. Yes you read that correctly, Mathias owns the building, but must pay Mathilde until she drops dead, and unfortunately for Mathias, Mme. Girard is in great shape. To make things worse, Mathilde’s daughter Chloe (Kristen Scott Thomas) shows up, making Mathias’ situation even more complicated.


Initially it’s a little tough to know what to think of MY OLD LADY. Kline’s character is a jerk and is at first completely unlikable. Mathilde on the other hand is a sweet old woman who takes no pity on Mathias, so it’s hard to side with her too. This all changes when the film takes a Tracy Letts style turn halfway through. Smith is very charming as the great dame. She provides the same wit and snappiness found in her award-winning performance as the Dowager Countess in Downton Abbey. The strongest performance in the film comes from Scott Thomas, who is able to show her full acting capability after some revelations in the film’s second act.

At time, MY OLD LADY plays a bit too much like a play, but this is mostly forgivable as Horovitz does his best to get his characters outside into the Paris scenery we have all come to love. There are a couple monologues that do feel a bit stagey, but for the most part they could not have been broken up. MY OLD LADY makes up for it’s unoriginal setup and predictable ending with great dialogue and a few surprisingly heartbreaking scenes. It is a fitting showcase for its three leads, who are each at the top of their game. And really, how can anyone resist Maggie Smith?

3.5 sheep


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