New Yorker Mathias (Kevin Kline) has inherited a large Parisian apartment from his estranged, and now deceased, father. Having driven his life into the ground this windfall comes at a time where a large lump sum are all that stands between Mathias and ruin. Sadly a bizarre French law means that the apartment’s former owner and current tenant Mathilde (Maggie Smith) has the right to live in Mathias’ new property until she dies. On top of this the bankrupt American must pay her a monthly maintenance or forfeit the entire abode. With nowhere else to go Mathias rents a room in his own apartment and lives with Mathilde and her daughter Chloé (Kristin Scott Thomas) while he judges how long Mathilde has left to live and whether he can possibly sell the place while it remains tied up in the strange Parisian legal bind.
For the most part My Old Lady features just this cast of three and rarely strays too far from the all important apartment. The plot is driven by plenty of dialogue, the acting is delivered with a little too much vigour, and the machinations of the story get a little contrived towards the end. All of this should scream one thing to you; the theatre. Indeed with its modest headcount, singular setting, and final act revelations My Old Lady does very little to disguise the fact that it started life on the stage in a play by the film’s director Israel Horovitz. When a play is adapted well it can make for great cinematic fare equally as lauded as its original incarnation. When done badly a big screen adaptation can feel stale and unconvincing; the melodrama that was captivating on stage not translating so well on-screen.
For the most part Horovitz does not seem to have done much to make My Old Lady justify a conversion to film. There is nothing contained within the adaptation that could not have been performed on stage any less easily and the style of direction is one without flair or excitement. It is hard to see what filming his play has added to its story and why he felt the need to do so.
The film, and presumably the play, is perfectly pleasant. Not quite as many laughs as I had been led to expect but a funny and charming story is there to be enjoyed. Maggie Smith gives her trademark performance as a snippy but loveable aging matriarch and is as enjoyable to watch as always. Kristin Scott Thomas gives a tender edge to her role as the indignant daughter and Kevin Kline slightly over-eggs his performance as the boorish American disrupting the lives of incredibly English Parisians. The experience of watching My Old Lady is one of bemusement and mild unrest. Nothing too exciting happens, a few laughs are had, and then it ends without ever fully convincing.
Not a bad film but not spectacular either. My Old Lady is a film to be watched on a rainy weekend afternoon with a blanket keeping you warm.
My Old Lady has a UK release date of 21st November 2014.