Meet cute, talk snappy, and convince the charming yet sardonic Englishwoman to accompany you to your daughter's wedding reception, and the next thing you know life's looking up again. Even if your boss is on the phone telling you you're fired, and even as your hopelessly romantic assignation at a fountain gets stymied by, well - that bit isn't in the trailer.
And yes, there's a let's-pick-out-a-dress montage.
Last Chance Harvey was written and directed by Joel Hopkins, whose two previous films starred TV On the Radio's Tunde Adebimpe. I mention this only because Adebimpe is the groom in Jonathan Demme's Rachel Getting Married, a film that comes to mind now and again while watching Last Chance Harvey: embarrassing toasts are proffered, a dysfunctional marriage is post-mortemed, a distanced father-daughter relationship described.
Like Woody Allen's old New York pictures, Hopkins makes the most of an upper-crust and touristy metropolis, setting his stars loose on the Thames embankment, on footbridges and in parks, drinking champagne in posh hotels and exchanging compromising secrets in plazas surrounded by pigeons and whooshing double-decker buses.
"It's not real life," Kate cautions at one point, when the glimmer of a serious relationship between these strangers begins to seem possible. Comfortable in her resignation, reluctantly doing the blind date or two, and in constant contact with her worrywart mother (Eileen Atkins), Kate's scared to make the leap into the arms of a rumpled New Yorker many years her senior, with his own baggage, his own battle scars.
If Hoffman, comically out of sorts (an antitheft device he can't remove from the sleeve of his suit) and more than a tad pathetic, doesn't seem wholly committed to this treacle, the actor rises to the occasion when Harvey is compelled to show his parental credentials to the happy gathering at Susan's (Liane Balaban) wedding. His address to the bride - and his acknowledgment to his ex (Kathy Baker) and her new husband (James Brolin) - is at once emotionally raw, honest, perceptive, generous and genuine. It's a touching speech.
And Thompson is her usual seemingly effortlessly charming self. When the actress offers her arm for Hoffman to take and says, "Shall we walk?". . . well, schmaltz or no schmaltz, who can refuse?
Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://go.philly.com/onmovies.