Adapted by writer-director Israel Horovitz from his own 2012 Broadway play, My Old Lady initially looks as though it’s going to be another fluffy American-in-Paris rom-com. It begins with Kevin Kline’s hard-up, hard-luck, formerly hard-drinking New Yorker arriving in Paris hoping to turn his fortunes around by claiming his inheritance – a fabulously valuable apartment in the Marais owned by his long estranged, recently deceased father.
Much to his dismay, the flat turns out to be a viager. This is a property that doesn’t just come with strings attached; it’s bound in red tape. According to French real-estate law, he can’t shift the sitting tenant, a waspish, very droll Maggie Smith, who lives there with her frosty daughter, Kristin Scott Thomas. Indeed, he is obliged to pay her a monthly fee until she dies. This set-up yields some highly enjoyable battle-of-wits comedy, performed with lip-smacking relish by the three stars. But just when you think the story is going to proceed on a well-worn, cosily romantic track, its characters unpack their emotional baggage, revealing unexpected depths of hurt and taking the film into bittersweet dramatic territory.
Certificate 12A. Runtime 107 mins. Director Israel Horowitz.