Review: 'Last Love' Is Less Than Likable
There's a moment toward the end of Last Love -- or maybe I just really wanted it to be toward the end -- when a sad old widower named Matthew Morgan mutters something to the effect of "There's nothing more depressing than empty coat hangers." But that isn't true, and this movie offers abundant proof: It's far more depressing to watch Michael Caine, who plays Morgan, wander around trying to rescue a crummy script.
Caine being Caine, he occasionally comes close to succeeding; in fact, he legitimately breathes life into a part that doesn't call for him to do much more than look sad and say rude things to the actors who play his children (in a distractingly bad American accent, to boot). But not even his sensitive portrayal of a grieving husband can bring Last Love anywhere near "worth watching" territory.
Adapted from French novelist Francoise Dorner’s “La douceur assassine,” Last Love finds director Sandra Nettelbeck taking her shot at the ever-popular Indie Drama Where Rich People Look Sad a Lot. It's a subgenre that's been strangled pretty much to death at this point, and it'd grate even if Nettelbeck had wrung a decent script from the book. Alas, Last Love not only dawdles and mopes, it hinges on a pair of puzzling decisions from characters who are never fleshed out fully enough to justify their actions. At its most crucial moments, the movie feels arbitrary; you watch people doing things, and rather than be affected by those actions in any way, all you can do is wonder why they're happening (or, if you're truly cynical, you wonder which screenwriting classes Nettelbeck skipped).
The plot, in a nutshell: An American expat teacher in Paris (Caine) loses his beloved wife (Jane Alexander) to cancer, sending him into a suicidal spiral that only pauses when he happens to bump into a perky dance instructor (Clemence Poesy) on the bus. Next thing you know, he's hoofing it up at dance classes, going for slow boat rides with his new friend, so on and so forth.
But rather than take a truly unfortunate detour into Richard Gere romcom territory, Last Love has the guts (or something) to stick to its depressed guns; instead of putting the audience through a May/December romance between Caine and Poesy, it sends the movie's last act into a grim trench of recrimination between our protagonist and his grown kids (played, to varying degrees of success and/or interest, by Gillian Anderson and Justin Kirk). Without giving anything away, it's here that the second puzzling decision transpires, sending the movie into a closing scene that's supposed to be bittersweet but instead comes off as insultingly silly.
Perhaps the worst thing about Last Love is the sense you get that Caine's truly trying to elevate the material. In one key moment late in the film, he actually makes you feel for his character using nothing more than an expression, and you see what might have been -- a movie that could have forced a late-career reappraisal of a fine actor, a la Hal Holbrook in That Evening Sun or Robert Duvall in The Apostle. Alas, it's closer to Robert De Niro in Everybody's Fine: A solidly cast film that looks like it might have potential, but wastes everyone's time on an unformed idea. Here's hoping Caine finds that next great script sometime soon.