My Old Lady is a film based on a play by Israel Horovitz, who adapted his work for this film. Its transition to screen means the story can reach a wider audience than it could with theatre, but the question remains whether it was a story worth telling on-screen in the first place. The answer to that question, as unfortunate as it is, is a resounding ‘no’.
The story follows the exploits of down-and-out New Yorker, Mathias Gold (Kevin Kline), a cynical man who goes to Paris to claim an apartment left to him in his recently deceased father’s will. Hoping to sell the apartment for a large sum of money, Mathias is stunned to discover a 90-year-old woman, Mathilde Girard (Maggie Smith), living there. The twist: Mathias is obliged to pay Mathilde’s rent until she dies, after which point he’ll have full control of the apartment. Until then, he decides to share the apartment with Mathilde, which causes several inconveniences as the narrative progresses.
It flows like a light-hearted comedy-drama for about the first forty minutes, but, once we learn that Mathilde and her daughter (Kristin Scott Thomas) hold a stronger connection with Mathias’ father than first thought, the focus becomes much more dramatic. The major change in tone occurs quite quickly and unexpectedly, inviting the audience to take sympathy with these characters. Unfortunately, since the characters in question were blandly written to start off with, it doesn’t succeed with this dramatic shift.
Much of the film’s plot revolves around the highly flawed lovable loser, Mathias, and his relationship with his non-present father. Mathias is too much of a cynical and comedic character in the first part of the film to truly empathise with later on. In addition, his father’s character is built entirely through the dialogue of these characters, which makes him hard to care for as a result.
When Mathias does go through his character development, it feels forced and unnatural, as does his relationship with Kristin Scott Thomas’ ChloÃ© Girard – the inevitable love interest in the film. The relationship turns swiftly from that of rivalry (since she is initially against the idea of him living at the apartment) to one of love in a single scene. It is completely unnatural, and beyond the reaches of plausibility given their differences in character.
It’s a shame the film suffers so much from these problems, because the film boasts a great French soundtrack and some beautiful locales. The actors do their best with the material they’re given, with Kevin Kline and Maggie Smith giving some commendable performances. It’s just hard to engage with characters so blandly written and a story so implausibly crafted, along with jokes that are often hit-and-miss. My Old Lady is mildly entertaining, nothing more. It’s one you’ll forget about very quickly.
THE REEL SCORE: 3/10