Wednesday, October 22, 2014

My Old Lady [2014]

MPAA (PG-13) (3 Stars)  AVClub (C+)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
ChicagoTribune/Variety (A. Barker) review (G. Kenny) review
AVClub (M. D'Angelo) review

My Old Lady [2014] (written and directed by Israel Horovitz based on his own stage play of the same name) tells a scathing if at times funny story (as is often the case in life, the alternative is to cry...) of multi-layered family dysfunction.  The layers get revealed as the story plays-out, so it's a challenge to write about this film without revealing (spoiling) too much.

The film begins with 50-something New Yorker Matthias Gold (played by Kevin Kline) somewhat happily strolling down the streets of Paris eventually ending at a building in a quite nice residential section of town.  He knocks.  No one answers.  So he chooses to enter (with some force) anyway.  That seems strange, but we soon find-out why he was behaving this way.  Apparently, he inherited the building.

However, inside the building, he finds to _his_ surprise a tenant, Mathilde Girard (played by Maggie Smith), 92 years-old, who by having sold the building to Matthias' father _at a discount_ decades ago by a truly odd but fascinating convention of French real estate law called a viager, must be allowed to live-out her days in the home until she dies.  Indeed, as part of the viager deal, she was entitled to a monthly stipend paid by the owner to boot. 

Seeing Mathilde there in the building and hearing, from her, what her presence meant to him (and to his plans), leaves Matthias quite crest-fallen / crushed.  Why?  He had been something of a loser most of his life, a failed writer with three failed marriages "one for each unpublished book" that he had written.  He told Mathilde that all he inherited from his quite wealthy but aloof father was "a couple of French language books" and _this building_, that the rest of his father's fortune went to some obscure "French charity."  So he told Mathilde that he had hoped to sell the building, quite fast, converting its value into cash, and leave.  Now her presence put a wrench in what had been a rather simple plan.

Mathilde doesn't help matters for either of them (though she knows that she can't be thrown out, and indeed, as long as Matthias "owns" the place, HE actually will have to pay her as she continues to live there) by telling Matthias, that she's known "of him" from his father (the previous owner), and that she's frankly surprised to find "someone who's accomplished _so little_ in life _by his age_ (as he)."  

At that, Matthias, who's hated his father for his self-centeredness and philandering for most of his life (Matthias' father had left him and his mother in an awful state when he was young), decides that he's going to find a way to sell the home, even if at a necessary (again viager) discount to just get rid of it and get on with his life.

But things get even more complicated when Matthias discovers that Mathilde has a daughter, Chloé Girard (played by Kristin Scott Thomas) about Matthias' age living with her as well.  Now Matthias would owe nothing to Chloé as the viager contract was made between Mathilde and the owner of the building.  However, Chloé who ALSO hasn't amounted to much in life knew well that she'd be out on the street WITH NOTHING as soon as Mathilde died.  Her presence made Matthias' plan to just sell the place and get out seem even uglier.

Now why would Matthias' father bequeath to Matthias (who after all hated him) _this house_ with so many complications with it (and then, so little else...)?   Well that's of course the rest of the story, and it's a pretty good one. 

And the film does make for a great discussion piece for "Adult families" where there's been _a lot_ of intergenerational resentment and pain.

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