He is a 60ish composer of TV-commercial music (not jingles, more like the background filigree for laundry-detergent miracles) who arrives in London for his daughter's wedding; before long, he learns that she's going to be given away by her stepfather, and that his job has been eliminated. She is a 45ish singleton-going-on-spinster who conducts surveys in airports, fake-smiles her way through blind dates, and gets a dozen calls a day on her cell phone from her mother. By the time Harvey (Dustin Hoffman) strikes up a conversation with Kate (Emma Thompson) in an empty lounge, Last Chance Harvey has so established that these two are adorable sad sacks in need of a tender hookup that we're ready to wrap them in a hearty, patronizing hug. Not so fast: Their awkwardly impromptu pickup scene isn't pathetic, it's edgy and funny and terse, crackling with the sound of defense mechanisms slowly being lowered. Last Chance Harvey is a losers-in-love comedy with no big surprises, but in the age of Internet dating, the prospect of two strangers trying this valiantly to connect in public carries a dash of romantic heroism.
As the two traipse around London, getting to know each other like a couple of old-fashioned shy college kids, they make little in the way of grand gestures. Thompson, easing up on her starched wittiness, comes off as younger, in spirit, than she did 15 years ago; her Kate has a fragile sensuality encased in a perfectionism that's really fear. And Hoffman gives a shrewdly direct performance as a mensch suddenly liberated from behaving himself. These two deserved the intimate incandescence of their own Before Sunrise, rather than the slightly generic sentimentality of a cross-Atlantic Marty. But Hoffman and Thompson are each good enough to bring out a glow in the other. B–