Kevin Kline may not be the first one to admit (except perhaps when pressed–on camera) to his nickname, Kevin De-Kline (spelling mine—I don’t know how he spells it), so it was exciting to learn that he would be gracing the bijous with star turns in two independent films, The Last of Robin Hood and My Old Lady. Both are enjoyed if flawed, and provide glimpses into Kline’s considerable skills as an actor.
The Last of Robin Hood has Kline portraying a rakish, dissolute Errol Flynn entrancing and romancing a very young Beverly Aadland (Dakota Fanning), while trying very hard to allay the suspicions of her maternally misguided mother (a terrific Susan Sarandon), who says she wants what is best for Bev but is perhaps willing to turn a blind eye to some scandalous, not to say, illegal behavior. As the movie presents it, young Beverly allows Errol to think she is older and only comes clean to her real age (15)after he has “charmed” her—for lack of a better word—and subsequently discovered her age from a high school peer of Beverly’s. What begins as a conquest segues into a two-year affair, which endured till the end of Flynn’s life, as his attempt s to make her a star resulted in that ever-execrable filmic foray into Havana, Cuban Rebel Girls,
While The Last of Robin Hood is not a full-scale look at the workings and hypocrisies inherent in what we might view as the “Old Hollywood,” there are glimpses of old-style glamour, as well as a few incisive moments—as when Flynn tries to pitch himself for the film version of Lolita to an interested Stanley Kubrick—until Flynn tries to include Beverly as his Lolita. Dakota Fanning and Susan Sarandon do fine work as the mother and daughter—both initially wary and ultimately enamored of Flynn. Kline is superb in making credible all the contradictory aspects that were Errol Flynn: his Flynn is intelligent, capricious, self-aware, self-deprecating, romantic, lascivious, sensitive, calculating, and careless. As Kline portrays him, all these contradictory characteristics that were Flynn merge into a strangely sympathetic portrayal of the star in twilight.
My Old Lady has an intriguing premise, as Kevin Kline, playing Mathias Gold, an alcoholic writer at the end of his tether, arrives in Paris to collect on his inheritance, which happens to be a spacious apartment complete with yard, and eminently attractive to a prospective buyer willing to pay millions. There’s just one catch—it has an elderly tenant in the form of the redoubtable Maggie Smith who is aware of an obscure law that says she cannot be evicted—moreover the luckless new owner must pay her rent, lest he lose the property. The set-up would lead one to think this all the makings of a black comedy—this is hinted at, and then alas, quickly discarded, as playwright Israel Horovitz, who adapted his own play as well as directed, had other things on his mind, like parental neglect, personal responsibility, and late-blooming love. In the end, this leads to several overwritten, repetitive, soul-baring scenes, unhappy revelations, and life-changing decisions.
As a result, My Old Lady, though it is generally entertaining, suffers through the emotional spiral that is its second act. The director Horovitz should have edited some of the longer, repetitive speeches and exchanges, but I suppose writer Horovitz was battling him every step of the way. The actors are all game, but occasionally encouraged to play, if not to the balcony, then to at the very least, the mezzanine (even Miss Smith). Kristin Scott Thomas, as Smith’s resentful daughter has a hard job making her brittle character sympathetic, but she manages to do so. Kline’s Mathias sometimes brings to mind his Ugly American, Oscar-winning turn from A Fish called Wanda; here (as in Robin Hood) Kline succeeds in making what might have been an unpalatable character (after all, he is petty and self-pitying, as well as self-loathing) understandable and relatable. If some of the speeches don’t quite ring true, Kline is still in there trying to imbue them with a degree of plausibility. When the final reckonings are made, any
poignancy is due to the efforts of Smith, Scott-Thomas, and especially Kline—here’s hoping the next starring role will come sooner.