My Old Lady

Israel Horovitz

BY Matthew RitchiePublished Sep 15, 2014

It took over 50 years for long-time playwright Israel Horovitz to direct his first feature-length film. Sadly, My Old Lady — the cinematic adaptation of his 2002 play — was not worth the wait.

The old lady in question is Mathilde Girard (played by Maggie Smith), a British ex-pat who has spent the majority of her life in France. When a New York-based writer down on his luck named Mathias Gold (played by Kevin Kline) discovers he's inherited a spacious apartment unit in Paris from his estranged father, he also discovers that Mathilde and her daughter, Chloé (Kristin Scott Thomas) are living in his home as part of an old French law known as a viager agreement, in which a landowner sells the property to a purchaser in exchange for monthly cash instalments as opposed to one lump sum. The catch: the original landowner (in this case, Mathilde) is allowed to stay in the home for the rest of their life while receiving regular monetary compensation.

That's bad news for Gold, who, after spending the rest of his remaining money to fly to France, soon realizes he won't be able to liquidate his newly acquired property until Mathilde passes away.

Hilarity ensues, at least for the first half of the picture, as we see Kline play the same charming yet dastardly characters we've seen him play in the past. However, the humour doesn't last, as the film's latter half focuses on just how emotionally messed up he and his new roommate, Chloé, really are.

A recovering alcoholic, Gold turns to drink after confronting his suicidal thoughts, self-hatred and even deeper loathing for his father, a man who clearly had some hidden connection to Madame Girard. Chloé is no different, as we witness her own self-destruction and inability to be truly intimate, a problem that stems from her own insecurities with her father.

Chloé and Gold hate each other, so it comes as no surprise that they end up having sex, even though they may be related to one another.

While such a dark feature may appear palatable on stage, the strict confines of the cinema give Horovitz' first full-length little room to grow, as Chloé and Gold both stay neurotic, self-obsessed and tragically one dimensional during the film's hour and 47-minute runtime.

That's not to say any of the film's three main actors give mediocre performances. There's a reason Kline, Smith and Thomas have all received Oscar nominations in the past, and their performances in My Old Lady are nothing but great. (Likewise, Horovitz' dialogue, although a bit predictable at times, is still as impactful as ever.) But when a film is set in Paris but can't seem to even get out of the house, maybe it's time to rethink if it's suitable for the silver screen.
(D Films)

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