My Old Lady is a family melodrama that proves there’s no such thing as a free lunch. When a down-and-out American inherits a large apartment in Paris from his late father he thinks all of his pay days have come at once. But the residence comes with some strings attached, namely an old lady, her prickly, unmarried daughter and some large skeletons in the closet.

The film is an adaption of a play by Israel Horovitz and it also marks the directorial debut for this 75-year old playwright (and father of Beastie Boy, Ad-Rock). The film is a rich portrait of quietly observed characters that is slow, nuanced and better suited to its original home, the stage. It sees Kevin Kline playing Mathias Gold, a bitter and penniless New Yorker who blames his father for every problem in his life (and this has continued despite the old man dying).

The “Old Lady” in question is Mathilde Girard played by Dame Maggie Smith, a former bohemian and 92-year old English expat living in Paris. She sold the apartment to Gold’s father in a viager agreement a few decades back. This is a French tradition that meant that little money was paid up-front but as a result she gets to live there rent free until death and she is also entitled to a monthly stipend (payable originally by Gold’s father and assumed by the son after he had inherited the property).

Kristin Scott Thomas plays the old woman’s icy daughter, Chloé Girard, who is forthright in her convictions. She wants the apartment to stay out of the hands of greedy developers. But this is at odds with Gold’s wishes because all he wants to do is amass a tidy $9 million for the place. The film is a little contrived in parts (especially in the relationship that subsequently unfolds between Gold and the junior Girard). That said, the chemistry between all three lead actors is obvious and they all put in fabulous performances.

My Old Lady has a beautiful backdrop in Paris and explores the parent-child relationship in detail, particularly when it turns toxic and is laced with resentment, self-pity and ruminations about how things should have been different. It achieves this through a series of sub-plots and monologues which mean it would have been better suited to the stage rather than the screen. It is also a sensitive drama that occasionally veers off into territory that is like a dark and whimsical comedy and at its worse it is bland. But for all of the solid performances, intricate emotions and vivid characters, there is still a little something missing from this familial portrait.

Originally published on 16 November 2014 at the following website:

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