With a movie titled Last Love, it’s natural to expect a love story to end all love stories. A tale of two people finally finding something more than what they want – what they need. But instead of the love story you’d expect to get from a film with a title like Last Love, director Sandra Nettelbeck teases a more traditional romance, and instead delivers a tale of platonic love between a man who needs someone to care, and a kind woman who cares enough to be that someone.
Last Love tells the story of Matthew Morgan (Michael Caine), an elderly man who is trying to get along three years after his wife’s death. He has very few friends, a strained relationship with his children, and just doesn’t know what to do with his life without the person that he was with for so long. He struggles with depression and thoughts of suicide, until he meets Pauline (Clémence Poésy), a young dance instructor who becomes his friend. Of course, things are never that simple and another attempted suicide makes it seem as if Matthew may never be able to get along without his wife.
At times it’s almost hard to know what to make of this film. It isn’t necessarily a sad movie, which is odd since the story itself is as somber as they come. But even in the darkest scenes of death, suicide, and uncertainty, there’s something present to light up the screen. Whether it’s the music or the beautiful scenery, there always seems to be something to counter the dark moments that the characters are dealing with.
While some might be thrown off by a sad story with such a happy feel, it works really well here. It keeps the movie from reaching too depressing of a place. While not every story has to have a happy ending, sometimes it’s better when films about death and depression are more than just films about death and depression, and this is definitely one of those cases.
Throughout the film Matthew sees visions of his wife everywhere he goes. He speaks to her, takes advice from her, and has her company to comfort him when he’s at his loneliest. This could have been an effective technique if the film was fully focused on the loneliness of an old man or on how to cope with the loss of a loved one. As it stands though, those things are set up as side-issues and subplots, causing the visions to feel out of place and awkward. There’s no consistency to their use, and they seem to lack weight, which could be said for most of the plot in Last Love.
There really isn’t enough substance to the story for this to be a great film. There’s a fair bit of conflict, but most of it is based on past events, and watching people sulk about their previous issues usually isn’t all that interesting. It’s a love story with no real love, other than the love of friendship, which on-paper, doesn’t sound like all that great of an idea. There’s nothing in the movie that’s revolutionary enough or interesting enough to subvert what would be expected from a movie about two people being friends. Fortunately for the film, the acting is strong enough to carry the story far beyond what otherwise would be its bounds.
This is one of Michael Caine’s best performances, and for someone like Caine, that’s really saying something. He hits the highs and the lows of Matt with such a vulnerability that it almost hurts to watch. From the opening scene where his wife dies and he won’t let go of her, it’s a stunningly somber performance, without ever seeping into too much melodrama. He plays hopeless as well as anyone, and the scene where he finally breaks down and cries is absolutely heartbreaking. It’s a remarkable performance by one of the most esteemed actors of our generation.
As great as Caine’s performance is, the one huge draw back is it’s almost like he’s not even trying to do an American accent. At times it’s alright, but most of the time he just sounds like Michael Caine. Because of this, I’m a bit confused why they didn’t just make him from England. Nothing about the character or the story is specific to America, except for the quick lines that are thrown in to remind us that Matthew hails from the USA.
But that’s really a minor qualm in the grand scheme of what Caine is able to do with his performance, and he’s not the only one. If it weren’t for Caine, Clémence Poésy would absolutely steal the show. She lights up every single scene she’s in, and when Matt explains all the reasons why he stares at her, they’re all the exact same reasons why her performance captivated me. It’s impossible not to like her character, which is exactly what that role needed to be. She plays it almost to perfection.
Like many good movies though, Last Love suffers from hanging around just one scene too long. The final scene of the movie tells us everything we already knew, and it feels forced and cliche. That’s the one moment where the writing was mediocre and the dialogue felt forced. The film would’ve lost nothing by omitting the last scene, and I wager it would’ve gained quite a lot.
Still, despite all the flaws, it’s in the small moments between its leads that the film succeeds. The interactions between Caine and Poésey are heartwarming. The two have such great chemistry that I’d be willing to watch them discuss the weather, and because of that they’re able to make up for many of the film’s shortcomings. Every time Matthew is out with his younger female friend it seems that he’s finding new pleasure in life and she’s finding pleasure in helping him reach that point. Their happiness in those moments translates into enjoyment for the viewer, I just wish those moments had been more prevalent.
Focusing a story on how someone is getting along after the death of a loved one is nothing new. It’s been done well quite a few times before. While Last Love doesn’t bring anything revolutionary to that niche, it does feature a couple of phenomenal performances by its leads, and that combined with a heartfelt story makes for a movie that is definitely worth seeing.