My Old Lady | Film review - American in Paris Kevin lands in a bittersweet ménage with Brits Maggie & Kristin

My Old Lady - Kevin Kline & Maggie Smith

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.

Jason Best

A film critic for over 25 years, Jason admits the job can occasionally be glamorous – sitting on a film festival jury in Portugal; hanging out with Baz Luhrmann at the Chateau Marmont; chatting with Sigourney Weaver about The Archers – but he mostly spends his time in darkened rooms watching films. He’s also written theatre and opera reviews, two guide books on Rome, and competed in a race for Yachting World, whose great wheeze it was to send a seasick film critic to write about his time on the ocean waves. But Jason is happiest on dry land with a classic screwball comedy or Hitchcock thriller.