Now here’s a tale for widowers. A lyrical, funny, gentle film that bored the still-loved, still-seen amongst the newspaper smugerati. For they did not understand the solace of Mr Morgan’s Last Love.
Michael Caine plays Matthew, an (atrociously accented) American in Paris. His wife is dead and he is fading under the loss and the loneliness. A wealthy man, but a kindly one, he is robbed of joy and isolated by geography and family relationships: his children, Karen (Gillian Anderson in a fizz and a bang) and Miles (Justin Kirk in a scowl and a, well, we’ll see…) are angry and far far away. Old Jack watched the early scenes of Caine trudging through his desolate days with recognition and old angst. Been there; been the one left behind.
There’s a lyricism to the enterprise. The music catches you between jaunty and sad. The lighting, the score and the beauty of the city make for a bright, shiny living shroud for Mr Morgan.
Then, with eye-contact and a badly braking bus, Mr Morgan meets Pauline Laubie. The old philosopher and the young dance teacher. And they are a match of lonelinesses. She has lost her parents and simply recognises Mr Morgan in that eternal way that you meet your own baby, love your first true love, or find restfulness in being with a genuine friend. And friendship it is.
I watched this film when it first hit DVD. Again a year ago. Again this week. Old Jack is a grumpy heart, as you may have spotted, but there’s a French saying that the coldest heart is the closest to sentiment. Caine’s surreally bad American accent – utterly pointless in the context of the film – helps me keep the sentiment at bay, but, nah, who am I kidding? I adore this film. It has messy plotting towards the end, and a slow-slow pacing that drives the young away, but, oh, it is lovely.
The old man and the young woman become friends. He is a little smitten, surely; Clémence Poésy plays her, and who amongst us stands a chance with a woman like that? Direct questions, searching eyes and simple beauty – and, in this film, sporadically accessible. She respects parents and needs a father-friend to fill her own loneliness; he gets over a moment of foolish fondness and recognises the solace her friendship brings him. There is not a hint of the lascivious battle of O’Toole and Whittaker in Venus. This is a gentler tale: Mr Morgan has been unshackled from his maniac and still loves his wife.
There was a moment a year or so after old Jack lost Mrs Jack… Not a good one. I was crossing the road, shuffling and being tutted at, when the cars began to move behind me. It’s the law, they can do that. And I wanted to step back into them: to lose the wash of grief and sad thoughts and get whacked out of existence by brutes in lorries. I didn’t. Partly because I needed a beer; partly because I tripped on the zimmer and face-butted the pavement. Morgan has his bad moment with pills, gets it wrong, and wakes up in hospital with a properly pissed off Pauline, then his children. No one wants him to die.
Caine gives a lovely performance throughout – if you ignore the accent. He’s not a mawkish miserabilist, rather a slowed-down soul with powerful flashes of emotion. Anger at his kids for their accusations; sobbing in Pauline’s embrace when they visit an old holiday home and memories wreck him. It’s gorgeous. The passion with which he defends Pauline from hurt, and the “better idea” to make her life a secure one, pulled at old Jack’s fatherly heart.
Poésy is less contained than I’ve seen her. Hell, there’s even cha-cha and grinning and flippant assessment of men. Her warmth towards Mr Morgan, the protectiveness and anger when he puts down himself or his family relationships, is the value of this last love. Being so much younger and plainly lost, her Pauline is mesmerising and faintly wild. Just wish she wouldn’t smoke, you know?
Mr Morgan’s children disturb the story – and I guess it needed the shift – but I didn’t welcome their presence. Gillian Anderson’s Karen, entertainingly sharp even when thrown out of the hospital for smoking, disappears pretty quickly. Justin Kirk’s Miles stays. He’s in the midst of a family breakdown, and is the wounded party. Things need fixing and the film settles around the messy relationship between Miles and Matthew – and Pauline’s rôle in orchestrating its repair.
The plotting goes zig-zaggy to reach its end-point, all ghosts and park benches, but old Jack liked Kirk’s take on Miles (in the end) and how he made peace with Mr Morgan and his Last Love. I’ll not spoiler it for you, but there’s manly hugs and unexpected kissing in corridors.
This is a lovely film with small issues that grown-ups can edit out as they’re watching the thing (did I mention Caine’s accent?). Just beneath those distractions is a tale of loss, loneliness and the best kind of friendship.
iTunes or DVD. You choose.