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MY OLD LADY The Play’s The Thing

My Old Lady
My Old Lady

Directed by Israel Horovitz

Starring Kevin Kline, Kristin Scott Thomas, Maggie Smith, Dominique Pinon

Movie trailers can be notoriously unreliable things. The expectations they raise are often different from what a movie actually delivers, be it in quality, tone, or sometimes the story being told. The trailer for My Old Lady comes very close in this regard, suggesting a lightweight comedy that tugs at the heart strings, all with an impeccable cast. In this it is not entirely wrong, but what it fails to convey is the richness of character and the depth of drama here. It is a much more complex movie than it appears at first glance.

When he inherits a Parisian apartment, down and out New Yorker Mathias Gold (Kevin Kline) spends his last cent travelling to France in a hope to sell it. There is, however, a catch. The apartment is inhabited by 90 year old Madame Girard (Maggie Smith) and her middle aged daughter (Kristin Scott Thomas), under a uniquely French law of a “viager.” So not only is Gold unable to take possession of the property till after the death of the formidable Girard, but he finds himself contractually obliged to pay her a monthly stipend, which he obviously can’t afford.

By far and away this is Kline’s movie. His character is at the centre of the drama, and his fine performance absolutely holds this film together. There is a significant amount of growth and development here, handled with nuance and subtlety. It’s rare to see such progression in a film, and Kline sinks his teeth into a character that who presents a constantly changing face to the audience. Through degrees we see him progress from comedic to tragic, sympathetic to unlikeable, and various combinations between these extremes. It is fluid and dynamic, and key to the success of My Old Lady.

In part this harkens back to the origins of this script, and the bones of its stage play roots are clearly visible here. In adapting his own play for the screen, Israel Horovitz has obviously chosen an approach he is comfortable with for his directorial debut. The film revels in its dramatic dialogue and is filled with two-handers, allowing the actors to bounce off each other and give some great dramatic performances. No character is as simple as they first appear, and each are a complicated personality created by their past. Obviously, it also doesn’t hurt that these parts are played by actors of the calibre of Maggie Smith, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Dominique Pinon.

This is not quite the gentle comedy it purports to be, instead coming with a slightly sharper edge that makes My Old Lady even more enjoyable and worthwhile viewing.


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