Face it, My Old Lady isn’t a title that really excites. It’s sort of like “My Left Foot”. But I agreed to tag along because I thought I would be in for an unusual comedy. I mean, there’s so much potential in the premise: a man without a dime to his name inherits a multi-million dollar apartment in Paris, complete with private garden, furniture, and a 92-year-old woman. Apparently it’s a “thing” in Paris to buy an apartment from the current occupant then pay that occupant a monthly salary until he/she dies. Only then is the property yours undisputedly. This deal is a complete gamble (betting on how long the current occupant, usually someone in their twilight years, will “stick around”), so the buyer takes their chances at either claiming the property quickly or having to support the elderly occupant while they live out the rest of their days in the comfort of their own home. This plot has great potential.
Kevin Kline plays Mathias Gold, the poor son who inherits the apartment and its old lady, Mathilde Girard (Maggie Smith). She very kindly allows him to stay in her home while he figures out what to do with this bizarre inheritance. Of course, Mme. G. just happens to have a single daughter of about Mathias’ age and a curious drawer stuffed with pictures of Mathias’ father. The story blooms into an expected romance and an unexpected haunting of past lovers. The problem of the apartment is left behind, overshadowed by the weakness of a former alcoholic and stifled by lengthy monologues about suicide. My Old Lady isn’t quite the cheery flick I was expecting.
The acting is, however, quite good. Kevin Kline plays a man so close to slipping off the edge that you’re positively shocked every time he shows up unscathed. He tries to lighten the mood by making friends with a stuffed boar’s head, but the jokes fail pitifully – which is exactly the point. This man thought he had lost everything until he came to Paris. It was only then that he realized he had lost much more than originally imagined. It’s not a happy epiphany. Still, his hangovers are believable and his drunken speeches are perfectly pathetic.
Maggie Smith is a dream, as always, but her frailty is what really wins you over. She doesn’t play an angelic old woman, but every time she loses her breath or gets a little riled up I seriously believe she’s about to kick the bucket. The desired effect, I’m sure, especially since the main character wants to inherit her apartment as soon as possible and there’s only one way that’s going to happen.
So the acting is good, the cinematography is artsy, there’s lots of Parisian colour, but… well, it’s mopey. Not just depressing, but mopey. People who need hugs but refuse hugs. Mathias is also deplorable until the plot hits a wall and the movie turns from apartment-wars to family secrets and incest – then he’s a miserably lonely alcoholic. My Old Lady talks its way to a 4/10 in my books because it got stuck halfway through and crawled toward a conclusion.
My Old Lady trailer.