At age 75, prolific playwright Israel Horovitz makes his feature film directing debut with this adaptation of his own 2002 play about a thrice-divorced, almost-60 year-old, recovering alcoholic from New York who inherits an apartment in Paris from his late father – from whom he was long estranged. Read on…
When Mathias Gold (Kevin Kline) arrives on the premises, he discovers the dilapidated, two-story abode with its own walled garden is occupied by Madame Mathilde Girard (Maggie Smith), a tart, 92 year-old Englishwoman, who has been a tenant for decades, along with her caustic daughter, Chloe (Kristin Scott Thomas), who is protective to the point of hostility. Because of a bizarre French real estate custom called “viager,” Mathilde can legally stay there as long as she lives and even collect monthly payments from the rightful owner (like a reverse mortgage.) Penniless Mathias was planning to raise 12 million Euros by selling the place. That provokes quite a dilemma for all concerned, particularly when long-buried family secrets become unearthed. To complicate matters in this angst-riddled, emotional journey, a sleazy French real-estate developer wants to transform the entire apartment complex into a luxury hotel.
Combining droll humor with dialogue-heavy melodrama, Israel Horovitz admittedly drew from his own life experience, including the emotional debris of an abusive childhood, failed romances and death. His casting is spot-on. Seduced my Madame Girard’s abundant wine cellar and eschewing any pretense of subtlety, Kevin Kline’s cranky Mathias soon falls off-the-wagon, spouting self-pitying soliloquies and making declarations like, “I was born with a silver knife in my back.” Far less forbidding than her Lady Violet Crawley on TV’s Downton Abbey, Maggie Smith oozes irresistible vulnerability, even while jousting in verbal sparring matches, and impressively bilingual Kristin Scott-Thomas is engagingly conflicted.
FYI: Israel Horovitz has had more than 70 plays produced in the United States and 50 of them in France.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, My Old Lady is a cross-cultural 7, a comedic drama appealing to art house and older audiences.