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My Old Lady

Life has not been kind to Mathias Gold (Kevin Kline). He’s pushing 60, and all he has to show for his years are three unpublished novels, one for each ex-wife. His relationship with his father was never good, so he’s surprised to learn after the old guy dies that he left Mathias an apartment he owned in Paris, where he often went on business.

So Mathias spends his last dollars on a plane ticket to Paris, where he hopes to make a killing selling what turns out to be a big apartment with an even bigger garden in a great neighborhood. But there’s a catch. It is what the French call a viager. Similar to a reverse mortgage, it’s a deal in which the property is purchased from the occupying owner in exchange for monthly payments, continuing as long as the owner lives. If the occupant dies the week after the deal, the buyer was won a great bargain.

Mathias’s apartment is occupied Mathilde Gerard (Maggie Smith), who tells him she’s 90. Actually, she’s lying about her age: she’s really 92. And in great health. Not only can Mathias not sell the place; he has to pay her 2400 Euros (about $3100) per month.

As far as I’m concerned, if you get Kevin Kline and Maggie Smith to co-star in a movie, you’d have to work awfully hard to wind up with anything less than watchable. My Old Lady was written and directed by Israel Horovitz, the veteran playwright best know to film audiences for his autobiographical Author! Author! (1981), starring Al Pacino. Having split his career between New York and France, he has a great eye for the sights of Paris, which helps in opening up something that obviously started as a play.

We are rather less surprised than Mathias is to learn that his father and Mathilde were more than casual acquaintances. And when Mathilde’s daughter Chloé (Kristin Scott Thomas) enters the scenario, we suspect that Horovitz may have watched Billy Wilder’s Avanti! once or twice.

Mathias’s comical machinations to get some money out of the apartment occupy the first half of the film, at which point it turns rather more dramatic as he and Chloé compare and contrast their difficult upbringings. None of it is terribly surprising, but it allows the three stars to work all parts of their ranges—Kline even gets to sing a bit. It may not be the cinematic experience of a lifetime, but you’d have to be an awful grump to walk out of it feeling you’d wasted the price of a ticket.

Watch the trailer for My Old Lady

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