My Old Lady (2014) Movie Review

Among the dozen films I’d watched at the Toronto International Film Festival last September, two are apt selections for the annual Paris In July blogging event hosted by Tamara in Thyme for Tea, now in its sixth year. Recently I have re-watched both, one at an indie theatre, the other on Blu-ray. Here’s my first entry to Paris In July 2015.

Paris in July 2015 Icon

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My Old Lady (2014)

Just when voices had been raised in recent months from female stars against the sexist domination in Hollywood, and lamenting the lack of significant female leading roles, another issue pops up. Well, the problem has been there all along, but who would speak for those who are…. getting old? The peril of Agism in the movie industry. And, if you’re female and aging, confronting Hollywood is a losing battle.

I’m glad there are filmmakers who consider film as an art form, and in its essence, conveys the meaningful and universal that make us human. Kudos to all who attempt to break the barrier. Here we have a directorial debut from 75 year-old Isaac Horowitz. As he had noted, which first-time film director would talk about his five grandchildren?

Horowitz is an author of more than 50 produced plays. Several of his works have been translated and performed in as many as 30 languages worldwide. This is his first time directing a film, adapting his own play onto the big screen. My Old Lady is a delightful debut. I’ve watched it three times, so far, and liked it more each time.

My Old Lady Poster

In an after screen talk, Horowitz shared that he had heeded one advice from the iconic director Sydney Lumet: “Cast the best actors in the world and then get out of their way.” In his debut movie, his cast is first-rate, and allow me to show their age when they made this movie, just to prove a point: Maggie Smith, 80, Kristin Scott Thomas, 54, and Kevin Kline, 67. How much the director had left them to their own I don’t know, but sure looks easy for these veteran actors to take on this one. Such natural ease comes from decades of experience, expertise honed as innate skills.

That’s the advantage of ageing. Let’s drink to that.

Kevin Kline plays Mathias Gold, a down-and-out, thrice divorced, alcohol dependent, penniless middle-aged American who is relieved to inherit from his late father an apartment in the Marais district of Paris. Going there to claim his rightful ownership and aiming at a quick sale, he learns a French lesson in property transfers instead: En Viager. When his father purchased the apartment 43 years ago – now worth over 10 million Euros – he was under the contracted stipulation of a Viager.

This is the issue Mathias faces: Instead of a lump sum payment made for a clear purchase, his father, the buyer, had contracted to put down a cheap amount and then pay the rest as viager, a monthly fee of 2,400 Euro to the vendor and occupant of the apartment, Mathilde Girard (Maggie Smith), until she dies. Now at 90, Mathilde is in good health, thanks to her daily sustenance of red wine and precise meal times. Not only that, Mathilde has a daughter living with her, headstrong and vocal to defend their property against any potential profit-driven redevelopment plans.

That’s the story. It is not hard to predict the ending, with Kline and Scott Thomas together, albeit fiery and combative to start with. But what is harder to foresee is the story within the story at the outset. Everyone has a past. This is one of the best performance I’ve seen with Kline, for he carries the whole film and delivers with just the right touch of humour and pathos. The first time the two were co-stars was in Life As A House (2001), interestingly, another story based on a domicile. Life as a house indeed.

Scott Thomas as always is a pleasure to watch. No matter what role she takes up, her communication is crisp and clear even without having had to say a word. The last scene is a prime example. But of course, you don’t have to wait till the last. As for Maggie Smith, at 80, she is as strong as ever, even when she is playing one who is ten years older.

When it comes to plays turned into films, one should expect the prolific dialogues. Not a perfect fit all the time, there are moments where I as a movie viewer expect better lines, and more than stage-like scenes. But overall, the three characters are a delight to watch.

The few external Parisian street scenes with their fine matching music score instil longing. Yes, this is the kind of films that work best to lure you to Paris, not to the hot tourist sites, but to the streets where Parisians actually live. Subliminal seduction registering in my mind that next time I must go to those districts which are less trodden by tourists but equally representative of the historic city. Maybe a B&B right there in the Marais instead of a boutique hotel.

My Old Lady is a light comedy with a heart, bringing out an issue that, alas, could not be fully resolved, for what’s done cannot be undone. Offsprings inherit from their parents not only the physical properties but often the emotional baggages and their consequences. As a dramedy, Horowitz has brought us not only the drama but the happy ending, the best case scenario that can come out of human failings. That could well be a reason why we go see movies.

~ ~ ~ Ripples

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Related Posts on Ripple Effects:

The Second, Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Tuffing It Out At TIFF14

For a list of Paris in July Posts from previous years, CLICK HERE.

Published by

Arti

If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

27 thoughts on “My Old Lady (2014) Movie Review”

    1. That was swift. Glad you enjoyed it. I didn’t know Amazon streams movies now and that’s included in Prime. I’m sure you have many more good selections. Let me know what else you find worthwhile. 🙂

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      1. I’m glad to see Mae’s comment, as I have Amazon Prime. I’ve not found much of interest in their offerings, but of course I’m not the most motivated movie-viewer. This one certainly sounds delightful, though, and for some strange reason, I’m finding myself drawn to books and films that present aging characters. Why, oh why, could that be? 🙂

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        1. Look for this in the Houston area. It’s a small gem of a film. Nothing spectacular, but quiet and a leisurely paced. I think you’ll enjoy it.

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  1. My Old Lady is a perfect movie start to Paris in July Arti. I watched it last year, but I don’t think I enjoyed it as much as you did. Perhaps I should watch it again too?

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    1. Louise,

      As a matter of fact, the first time I saw it was at TIFF, I wasn’t overwhelmed. But thought it was an intimate film, like a chamber drama. Later I watched it again on our local indie theatre, and a few days ago on Blu-ray for the third time. I think Kevin Kline did a wonderful job. I admit, there are a few scenes that are redundant, or the dialogues not needed. But overall it’s a delightful little film. I particularly like the two times Mathias saw the woman along the Seine singing, and the second time joining in. A changed mood.

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  2. Sounds like a wonderful film and I will try to find it somewhere and watch during July. I am not so fond of Kevin Kline but love the two ladies. However, it is never to late to change your mind! Thank you for the tip.

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    1. Lisbeth,

      You know, I’m not a KK fan either. But from all that I’ve seen of his works, here he has done a wonderful job. And, KST is high on my all time fave list… in here, she is well cast as middle-aged, unlike in other movies now, she’s always, unreasonably and maybe even insultingly, being cast as old mothers.

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  3. Sigh. Why, oh, why, don’t these movies come to where I am. Three I really enjoy (two more than others) and Paris on top of it all. Thanks for reminding me of this one — I’ll keep looking for it on demand and one day, get netflix!

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    1. Jeanie,

      Have been neglecting the Pond here and hopefully now that I’m back (still busy with lots of follow-up work, like photos, as you can imagine), I do plan to post one or two more Paris in July entries before the month is over. As for this film, yes, do go find it, maybe on DVD from your library.

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      1. I’ve been slow to read and yes, I’ve already commented here but was re-reading just to settle it all in my mind. They’ve been showing my favorite “Midnight in Paris” over and over on cable. I need to check to see if this might show up “on demand.” Stands a better chance than the others, given the cast.

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  4. This was shown at the Sydney French Film Festival, I just didn’t get to see this one. I heard great reviews, and Arti, your’s makes it more compelling to view it. I’ll pop into the local french video shop tonight and see if I can find it. Welcome to Paris in July again 🙂

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    1. Thanks Tamara for hosting Paris in July for a sixth year. I’ve always enjoyed this blogging event. This is a little, quiet film, a chamber work, if you will. I’ve been away and will soon be back for another movie review or two if i can squeeze them in, for before long, July will be over.

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  5. This sounds utterly delightful! I am going to try and get my mitts on a copy to watch. I love Kevin Kline but haven’t seen him in movie in ages. And of Course Maggie Smith is always divine.

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    1. Stefanie,

      So sorry for the late reply. Have been away in Toronto at a family wedding (yes, you can guess, my son) And when I come back last week it’s another family wedding here, my niece. Haven’t been touching my laptop for blogging.
      Yes, go for it if you’re a KK fan. He’s very good here. As for me, my fave is KST. Glad she’s not given a role that’s much older than she really is. Wonderful to see her playing a role that still falls in love. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I saw this last year Arti. As I recollect I enjoyed the film but didn’t rave over it – and I enjoyed it because of the acting. I love the Frenchman too, the real estate agent. I think the script didn’t really excite me – a little melodramatic I felt regarding the parents though it made some good points too I suppose, particularly in terms of the Maggie Smith character’s non-recognition of the ramifications of her decisions. But the performances were great. I loved Maggie Smith and her red wine.

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    1. WG,

      Don’t consider this as a ‘rave’. Like you, when I first saw it at TIFF, it didn’t strike me enough. However, after the second, and now the third time, I’ve ‘grown’ to enjoy it, esp. the acting. When it comes to acting, and casting, I’m glad here we have KST still in a ‘wooable’ state, being portrayed not older as she actually is as in many of her recent films. Good to see two middle agers falling in love. I’m not a KK fan, but here I think he’s done a pretty good job. He had expressed the reason why he wanted to be in this film, he said because he could still get the girl. And Maggie Smith’s reason? Because I didn’t die at the end. 🙂

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    1. Nadia,

      Well it’s an enjoyable little gem… not a spectacular, cinematic great. But still, I’ve enjoyed its quietness. Thanks for stopping by and leaving your comment. Hope to hear from you again.

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  7. Well! FINALLY! After how long? And yes, what performances. I agree about KK — his best role, I think. Wonderful transitions from crafty and single-minded to inquisitive to losing control to realization and redemption. Maggie is Maggie. Just watching her is an acting class and KST — not afraid to look unattractive and then, with seemingly no change, she looks simply gorgeous and luminous — all the light through her. I thought it might be a bit more of a comedy and is a tad more dark than expected. Which, I must add, didn’t make it bad for me but not quite the movie we were expecting that evening. But very touching. I liked it very much.

    And you are right about the street scenes. When I visited Paris, both times i stayed in an apartment in the Marais and so I especially appreciated this. But sometimes I wondered — what time did they shoot this? There aren’t many people in the street scenes and even in the neighborhoods it seems like the people never stop!

    I would agree wholeheartedly with your three ripples and thanks for the recommendation. I will probably watch this again.

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