A staple, influential figure on Broadway for decades – having written over 70 stage plays – the veteran creative force that is Israel Horovitz, now at the age of 75, takes his seat in the director’s chair for the very first time, presenting light-hearted drama My Old Lady, which is based on one of his own plays.
Kevin Kline plays Mathias Gold, who inherits a luxurious apartment in Paris from his recently deceased father. However upon his arrival he is confronted by the hard-nosed tenants Mathilde (Maggie Smith), and her daughter Chloé (Kristin Scott Thomas) who explain a rather peculiar ancient French system called ‘viager’ – whereby Mathias, despite being the owner, is not allowed to sell the property until Mathilde passes away, and has to pay her rent in the meantime. Though Mathias’ first reaction it to wish a speedy departure for his new accomplice, as he sticks around he discovers there may be more to this situation than meets the eye.
While the notion of a flawed, imperfect protagonist is often a triumphant one – allowing us to identify with the lead role and see a more real, human being beneath the façade – in this case, the flaws are so patent and reprehensible that Mathias becomes increasingly difficult to invest in. It’s not that he’s selfish necessarily, nor that he is a chronic alcoholic – but it’s how abrasive he is in his intentions – evidently vying for Mathilde to die so he can get a quick cash fix. Characters such as that are not easy to abide by, and the film suffers accordingly, with a palpable, emotional disconnect between the film and the viewer. Though frivolity is always appreciated, particularly in such morbid circumstances, again such an approach works against this title, as too often Horovitz can be accused of looking for a cheap laugh rather than addressing an otherwise severe situation.
Nonetheless, the aforementioned tone makes for an entertaining film that is mostly harmless, and relatively easy to indulge in. But given Horovitz had over 70 plays from his illustrious career to choose from to bring to the silver screen for the very first time, you can’t help but feel that perhaps he may just have chosen the wrong one.