Starring: Michael Caine, Clémence Poésy, Justin Kirk
Three years after the death of his wife, 80 year old American ex-professor Mathew Morgan lives in Paris alone and still unwilling to learn any French and also having very little contact with his son Miles (Kirk) and daughter Karen (Gillian Anderson). After a chance meeting on a bus with a young dance instructor named Pauline (Poésy), another lonely individual who is without any family, Mathew and her strike up a bond of friendship. However when Mathew is hospitalised, the arrival of Miles and Karen complicate matters further, especially with Miles being very suspicious of Pauline and harbouring his own family secrets.
With a plot that treads very familiar and quite contrived ground, Mr. Morgan’s Last Love (or just Last Love as it is called in many other countries) already has its work cut out to bring any memorable substance to themes that have been examined with real heartbreaking conviction recently in films like Armour and Venus. Unfortunately it simply does not; relying on extremely lazy plot contrivances and a deeply melancholic tone that it is hard to truly feel part of when watching.
Of course many of us will be able to relate to the admittedly very poignant themes Mr. Morgan’s Last Love deals with, and I am sure it is made with the best of intentions, but there is ultimately a lack of real substance as the increasingly soppy and dreary tone makes the emotions almost feel quite forced.
In the leading role Michael Caine makes perfect marketing sense (yes, I am cynical) and he brings an undeniable sensitivity to his role that elevates the slightly lacklustre material, but casting him as an American was quite a mistake. He may have become in his later years the go to actor for sensitive roles, but he cannot do accents and though I concede that is lazy to criticise actors for poor accents, Caine’s pitiful attempt at an American accent is sometimes quite off putting. As Pauline, Clémence Poésy brings a genuine sensitivity and longing to her character, even if her character is perhaps poorly written and her relationship with Mathew a little unbelievable. Though it does seem she and other characters seem to have to longingly stare into the distance to emphasise the loneliness and misery every few minutes.
All this moping and thoughtful staring into the distance of the characters does start to grate after a while is we all well and truly get the point, but then things change when the film is given a sudden injection of energy from Mathew’s children turning up. Their anger towards their dad suggests that the film has just been setting things up and is now going to actually examine some really interesting themes about the family, but alas Gillian Anderson buggers off after a few scenes and Justin Kirk joins in the moping and mournful staring with the other characters as well as looking like he is permanently chewing a wasp. Miles’ relationship and conversations with Pauline once again feel contrived, almost making her character seem like a narrative tool and nothing else.
Nettlebeck admittedly shoots the film very well, using the Paris locations to maximum effect and the pallet of dull and bleak colours in Michael Bertl’s cinematography just add to the overwhelming sense of (forced) melancholy. Even Hans Zimmer’s score, which is sometimes a bit too loud, just feels painfully conventional and flat. As it draws to its conclusion, Mr. Morgan’s Last Love does not pull out any surprises, and the supposed attempts at emotion are just often ruined by how contrived and neat the whole narrative is.
Despite two committed leading performances, Mr. Morgan’s Last Love takes what could be a genuinely moving concept and over emphasises the melancholy way too much to be the engaging or moving drama it could, and should, have been.