Mathias Gold (Kevin Kline) has hit rock bottom. Alone and destitute, he travels to Paris using the last of his money in order to claim his inheritance from his father. A townhouse in the center of Paris is all his estranged father left him from his large estate. Looking to sell it to a hotel tycoon, he begins to appraise it the moment he arrives only to find that his inheritance is currently occupied by two stubborn french women. Mathilda Girard (Maggie Smith) and her daughter, Chloé Girard (Kristin Scott Thomas), are in a special arrangement. Instead of Mathias’ father purchasing the townhouse outright from Mathilda long ago, he instead formed a contract where he would pay her a monthly fee until she died. That contract was signed nearly 70 years ago. Mathias begins to reconsider his original plan and may just find out that he isn’t as alone in this world as he thought.
My Old Lady is based on the play by the same name written by Israel Horovitz. What is incredibly refreshing is that not only did Israel adapt the screenplay himself but he also directed the film. So, while I may never see his play in its original format, I do believe I have seen a true representation of his original work. I at the very least hope this is true since the film held many twists and turns along the way that I would be disheartened to find out where either rushed or incomplete compared to their stage counterparts. I say this since these twists and turns are really what I remember most about the film. You never really know what is exactly going to happen next as startling revelation after startling revelation continue to emerge. These help to keep the story fresh as it would otherwise lack much more than the natural conflict that would arise when one is waiting for a “tenant” to die to claim multi-million dollar investment.
As is usually the case with me, the second part that really brought this film to life is the actors character portrayals. Maggie Smith channels more than a little of her Professor McGonagall in her performance of a stern, stubborn, french woman. With a performance that easily and gracefully slides between gracious host and irate business partner. At certain times she seems to empathize with Mathias and his run of bad luck while other times she reveals no sympathy while firmly defending her position blaming Mathias for most of her troubles. It really is truly entertaining to watch Maggie Smith work with a character that she seems to fit her so well.
Kevin Kline and Kristin Thomas do pretty well themselves. Most of the movie, they spend their time trading insults back and forth while slowly learning about the each other’s true intentions. Not to mention that their relationship is what holds the majority of the twists and turns of this film. To be honest (spoiler ahead), Israel makes it appear that they aren’t going to end up together. For more than a moment, I truly thought that Israel would divert from the traditional model and end the film with a somber twist. He doesn’t but nonetheless, he keeps you guessing throughout the film.
Now, one thing that I have always found evident in film adaptations of plays is the amount monologues or scenes of extended dialogue. This is where Kevin Kline truly shines with his acting prowess. Giving more than a few powerful speeches and monologues that fully capture the characters forlorn attitude. It is the kind of performance in fact that makes me want to go through his filmography to find more gems showcasing his skill. His performance especially stands-out considering that the film has only three major characters. Not unusual but the disparity between main and secondary characters is so great that one could easily only include the main three. It would make for an interesting experiment but wouldn’t be that much of a risk to do.
Once again, I have not seen a stage production of the play but I feel that this is as close to the real thing as you will get. With a great cast, plot, and direction this is definitely a must see.
My Rating 8/10