My Old Lady sounds like a title from the days of screwball comedy, a genre in which director Israel Horovitz’s adaptation of his own play might have fared better.
Concerning the French property release scheme known as viager, wherein a buyer pays a monthly fee in exchange for ownership when the seller one day kicks the bucket, the film stars a blustery Kevin Kline as Mathias Gold, an itinerant heir arrived in Paris to claim his late father’s property, and Maggie Smith as Mathilde, a nonagenarian who, it turns out, is legally tied to the apartment. Her daughter, Chloé (Kristin Scott Thomas), meets Mathias when he bursts in on her in the john; later, she indignantly declares him an “imbecile.”
It sounds like a recipe for comedy (and Kline seems to think so too, waltzing and prat-falling through Mathias’s alcoholic foibles), but Horovitz’s screenplay guns instead for an emotionally and financially tangled melodrama, and ends up feeling aggravatingly inconsistent. His directing frequently places character development at odds with the flow of information, and despite repetitive explanations, the financial arrangement somehow remains as vague and nonsensical as Mathias and Chloé’s budding romance.
Never mind that this vaunted cast deserves better (the film was shot on location, so all three leads probably got a nice vacation out of it) — Horovitz somehow turns Paris into a city of dingy canals, dimly lit interiors, and generic sidewalk cafés. It’s not romantic so much as depressing. There’s a reason why the three main characters eventually settle into an entente with (if not literal, then certainly emotional) incestuous undertones. Anyone who’s not profiting directly from this arrangement won’t want to stick around to hash out the details.