A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will
put within you; and I will remove from your body t
he heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
Dustin Hoffman (Harvey Shine) and Emma Thompson (Kate Walker) mesh well together in this warm Au tumn romance. Harvey has three “last” chances—for reconciling with his daughter who is about to get married; for finding true love; and for following his own dream. It also may very well be Kate’s last chance at love. Although she is younger than Harvey, she is well into what an earlier age would have called spinsterhood.
Harvey is a failed jazz pianist reduced to writing tunes for advertising jingles in New York City. He is reluctant to attend his daughter’s wedding in London because he is in the midst of a project, one in which his boss (Richard Schiff) seems not to want his further participation. Arriving at Heathrow, Harvey rudely brushes off Kate Walker, who wants “a few minutes of your time” for him to fill out a questionnaire. He is a bit perplexed at the hotel to discover that he is the only wedding guest booked there. When he arrives at the reception (trying to hide the plastic anti-theft device still affixed to the sleeve of his new white jacket—he is the only man there dressed in white), he is taken aback to learn that his ex-wife has provided a large house for the other guests, and even more so, when his daughter Susan (Liane Balaban) apologetically informs him that she has asked her stepfather Brian (Josh Brolin) to give her away.
Feeling totally out of place, and irritating other guests by his taking his business calls on his cell phone, Harvey retires to the bar. Because of a crisis back in New York, Harvey tells his daughter that he will not be staying for her reception on the morrow. Meanwhile Kate is having an equally hellish time on a blind date set up by her friends, who conveniently leave the two alone. But then several of her date’s friends drop by, and Kate is ignored for the rest of the evening—except for the phone calls which she receives at all times of the day from her mother, who suspects the Polish neighbor next door of disposing of a dead body.
The next day, following the wedding, Harvey’s taxi is caught in the rush of traffic, causing him to miss his plane. Frantically calling New York, he finally learns why his boss did not want him back at the studio—he need not rush back because the client prefers to have a younger composer work on their jingle. He no longer has a job. Drowning his sorrows at the airport bar, Harvey spies and recognizes Kate sitting alone with a glass of wine and a novel. She at first rebuffs his attempt at conversing, but his charm melts her reserve, and he accompanies her into London, sitting outside while she attends a literature class. Each time they come to a parting, he comes up with a reason to continue their relationship.
Both share their past, he telling her what a s—ty day he has had, and she revealing her loneliness and her long ago abortion. She insists that he must attend his daughter’s reception. He refuses, then gives in, but only if she will accompany him. She resists, but when she uses her lack of proper attire as an excuse, he tells her that he will buy the dress—but not more than a $200 one. He jokingly accuses her of agreeing in order to get a new outfit. (There follows a silly montage of her trying on various preposterous dresses that is not in keeping with the rest of the film’s restrained humor.) They show up at the reception to the surprise of all, and consternation of his ex-wife, and find themselves seated at the only table with spare seats, the children’s table. At toast time Harvey faces a moment which could ruin or change his relationship to the daughter which he has so obviously neglected through the years.
This is a warm film, especially for Christian viewers tired of romances in which the characters become so impassioned that they rip their clothes off five minutes after meeting. This is truly an adult romantic comedy, adult in the real sense. Kate turns out to be an appealing bearer of grace, one who changes Harvey and enhances his strained relationship not only with his daughter, but even with his ex-wife and her husband. And, as we see when he receives another phone call from his boss, telling him that the client wants to use Harvey’s music after all, he is faced with still another major decision, one which might bring grace full circle back to Kate herself.
1. From what you are told why is Harvey estranged from his daughter? What has his career apparently meant for him? How has he had to compromise his earlier goals? How is he a bound or trapped man?
2. His treatment at the airport of what for him was a nuisance is typical: how can we deal with such requests in a more humane way?
3. How are he and Kate each depicted as an outsider? How do we see this in the film—his placement in the hotel; the sequence in which he tries to hide the theft-prevention device; his daughter’s wedding plans.
4. Some critics have criticized the frequent cuts to Kate’s mother as being extraneous: what do you think? Is her inclusion distracting” Or does it add to Kate’s story, and if so, what?
5. How is Kate “a bearer of grace” ? What difference does she make in Harvey’s life? Who has been a bearer of grace in your life? And have you also taken on such a role?
6. How did you feel when Harvey interrupted Brian at the wedding reception to make the father’s toast? How is his toast a moment of grace?
7. The film is somewhat open ended: what do you see in the future for the two principals? How is Harvey a new or freed man at the conclusion? Where do you see God in this film?