‘I was pregnant once...didn’t have it...I mean I didn’t think twice about it, that’s what smart girls did.’
Cue for straining-not-to-cry sighing. ‘I just wonder sometimes whether...they would be funny...or clever...or...or...neurotic...stupid really’
Thus confides Emma Thompson to her co-star Dustin Hoffman as they sit, stranded and wallowing in their sorrows by the fountains near Trafalgar Square. It’s the 2008 flick Last Chance Harvey, and Emma and Dustin are two old fogies falling for each other, as Emma the native from Willesden Green accompanies New Yorker Dustin around London.
They meet first in some austere looking bar at Heathrow where Dustin downs multiple shots, tries to make conversation with the sharp-tongued Emma, then decides to go for broke by cataloguing the rotting vestiges of his life. Dustin’s been fired from his job as a jingle writer for an advertising business, he never made it as a jazz pianist, he’s had a painful divorce, his wife has married some smoothie who gave his daughter quality time, and now his daughter is getting married and wants smoothie step-dad and not biological (ergo bad) Daddy Dustin to walk her down the aisle. Emma’s claim to failure is that she’s a repressed writer working in Heathrow taking surveys, and gets set up on blind dates only to spend the time squeezing her eyes so as not to cry. And we later find out that she’s had an abortion that makes her ‘sad’ to think about.
The New York Times did not mention the ‘A’ word – I can’t fathom why - when critiquing the film, instead they merely wrote of the post-abortion female lead ‘it’s hard to buy this Miss Lonely Hearts act’, and that ‘the screenplay chips away at the character’s dignity.’ But there was no cynical 'women never regret abortion' riposte from our colleagues at The New York Times.
Why have The New York Times become shy about rubbishing any even slightly pro-lifey film? They gave Juno a very favourable review; something that would have been unheard of in the 1970s and 80s when only-pro-abortion-screaming-feminism-articles-will-be-published was their credo.
I’m surprised that no big hub-bub was made of the curious pro-life tone to the film Last Chance Harvey. I mean, it does have Dustin Hoffman, whose strange magnetic presence even inspired rave reviews when he did the voice of a chicken in Chicken Run, and Emma Thompson, an actress who has globally defined Britishness for global audiences since winning an Oscar for Sense and Sensibility. Most of ‘us’ by that I mean, tried and tested pro-lifers may automatically think, ‘even tiny pro-life message in a film definitely means lots of angry pro-choicers will rubbish the film’.
In fact most people have either forgotten about or never heard of the film. Not that the film would be indelibly memorable. I don’t recommend it. The plot for the most part is as predictable as the bad wine they keep slinging back, we all know that Emma and Dustin will get together in the end. They’re of the same vintage and so dried up of enthusiasm and life that even a computer would link them instantly. In the final scene they walk by the Thames, falling into each other/supporting each other as they walk. Emma even takes off her shoes and then, bereft of her black heels, she is only a teensy bit taller than Dustin. Stock clichés roll off the script from Dustin telling the crowd at his daughter’s wedding that ‘divorce is really hardest on the kids...’ to Dustin telling Emma in his crinkly New York accent ‘y’know, you’re my kinda girl’. But somehow the fact that the script is not clever or ‘innovative’ makes it all the more real. That’s why when I heard the line ‘didn’t think twice about it, that’s what smart girls did’, it resonated with the hundreds of times I’ve heard it in real life. Acquaintances of mine have mouthed similar words like this to me since we were teenagers.
OK, it’s a Hollywood movie, and while there are lots of movies with girls brimming over with relief following an abortion, there are few movies that have an academy award winning actress in the role of a very unfulfilled middle aged woman, who crumbles with regret that she doesn’t know what ‘they’ would be like because she ‘didn’t have it’.
It’s hard to decide whether Emma’s ‘I do wonder sometimes whether they would be funny or clever’ part of the film is subtle or too slight to make a difference. Would it make Anne Furedi of British Pregnancy ‘Advisory’ Service cynically tut and stop watching for fear that it would turn into a pro-lifey plot?
I actually wouldn’t watch it with radical pro-abortion campaigners that I know. It would be unpleasant to hear the whoosh of my lap-top going out the window as Emma Thompson mouths despairingly ‘I do sometimes wonder if they would have been funny...’
The daring part: Emma is not ‘what a good decision, the abortion made such a difference to me, I climbed the career ladder like a mountaineer, sans crying baby I was able to meet lots of suave, eligible men...’ Instead she plays a post abortion character who spends a lot of the movie holding back tears, whose emotions are so repressed they are like the wind trapped in an extremely colicky baby.