I was just a freshman theater major at Indiana University - Purdue University at Indianapolis, now simply known as IUPUI, when I first began immersing myself in the plays of Israel Horovitz, one of the most produced American playwrights in French theatre history and founding Artistic Director of both the Gloucester Stage Company and the New York Playwrights Lab. His work, at least for me, has always had a sort of "Beckett Meets Real World" quality about it. Among his best known plays are Line, now in its 40th year of continuous performance off-Broadway, and Indian Wants the Bronx, a version of which I directed for the stage myself way back in my collegiate theater days.
While Horovitz has written for the screen before with such films as James Dean, Author! Author!, and The Strawberry Statement, My Old Lady marks his directorial debut of a feature film with the exception of a 51-minute piece called Three Weeks After Paradise that he released in 2002 in which he reflected on the 9/11 attacks.
My Old Lady is an adaptation of a Horovitz stage play and stars Oscar-winner Kevin Kline as Mathias Gold, a man who is self-described as a man with born a silver knife in his back. Gold is an American who inherits an apartment in Paris that comes with a most unexpected feature - a 90-year-old resident, Mathilde Girard (Maggie Smith) and Mathilde's incredibly protective daughter, Chloe (Kristin Scott Thomas). The film opens in limited nationwide release on September 10th with indie distributor Cohen Media Group, perhaps the perfect outfit for this unique yet wonderful little comedy with tremendous performances from its ensemble cast and that marvelous Horovitz dialogue that pulls it all together.
The film features an almost typical performance from Kevin Kline, who seems to have had a bit of a career resurgence as of late in fine indie projects. As Mathias, Kline is intelligent, sensitive, a little romantic, and very, very funny in the dryest of ways. Kline has always had a gift for mining the humor out of real situations rather than the usual Hollywood way of manufacturing situations and hoping they're funny. This, I think, makes him a perfect actor for a Horovitz production as he's able to wring every nuance, both dramatically and comically, out of Horovitz's language.
As Mathilde, Maggie Smith serves up one of her finer performances as of late. While virtually everyone knows her from Harry Potter, Smtih has always been an extraordinarily gifted actress and My Old Lady is a reminder of the layers upon layers that she's able to construct within a character and do so convincingly.
Finally, Kristin Scott Thomas succeeds in building a character who is at first rather unlikable, a woman who is ultra-protective of her mother and in all likelihood incredibly feisty anyway. In this performance, she is able to bring out Chloe's fullness without ever resorting to caricature. It's a fine performance that makes her later scenes with Kline all that more satisfying.
Mark Orton's original music is spot-on perfect, while Michel Amathieu's lensing is both intimate yet light. Pierre-Francois Limbosch's production design, especially within the apartment, is sublime. The film is patiently edited by Stephanie Ahn and Jacob Craycroft, an important fact to note because so much of Horovitz's dialogue tends to linger.
If you get a chance, you'll definitely want to check out one of 2014's true indie gems.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic