- Written by
- Israel Horovitz
- Directed by
- Israel Horovitz
- Kevin Kline, Maggie Smith and Kristin Scott Thomas
Mathias Gold (Kevin Kline) can't catch a break. A 50-plus failed American novelist with a drinking problem, three ex-wives and nary a penny to his name, Mathias arrives in Paris to claim the real estate bonanza promised by the apartment left to him by his father – only to learn he's been screwed by an obscure French legal arrangement known as viager: His father bought the apartment from the 94-year-old Madame Girard (Maggie Smith), who is legally entitled to live in the flat, supported by Mathias, until the day she dies. And, judging by the old woman's flinty vitality, that day isn't coming any time soon.
When his various connivances not only fail to dislodge the old lady but exacerbate the astringent animosity of her single daughter, Chloé (Kristin Scott Thomas), Mathias promptly falls off the wagon hard, availing himself liberally of the well-stocked wine cellar and railing with righteous self-pity as his life crumbles from the sheer weight of family secrets that are also generously uncorked.
Directed from his own 2002 play by 75-year-old first-time filmmaker Israel Horovitz, My Old Lady may fail to fully take flight from its drawing-room theatrical origins – despite the regularity with which it bolts outside for scenic gulps of fresh Parisian air – but it does serve up some prime cuts of ham: Kline moans, roars and whines like a yuppie Lear in an extended psychotherapy session; Smith slyly counters by underplaying every confrontation; and Scott Thomas careens between the two like a drive-in carhop on roller skates.
It's all fun enough to watch for the sheer over-the-topness of the performances, and Horovitz does his level best at working around some heavy spatial limitations, but there's no getting around the fact that, ultimately, My Old Lady feels as stubbornly stuck in that expansive and underlit apartment as Madame Girard herself, and you may find yourself bolting for a lungful of relief.
Whether seeking escape from the insufferable Mathias, the sheer incessant windiness of the dialogue or the sinking certainty that no dramatic revelations will be sufficient to shatter the joint's windows open, you'll probably wish you'd stayed outside.