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‘The Last Good Time’ (NR)

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
May 05, 1995

Bob Balaban's gentle drama "The Last Good Time" is tasteful, muted and suffused with a spirit of Old World weariness. It's not a rousing picture or an eventful one. Instead this story of a retired violinist (Armin Mueller-Stahl), living out the remainder of his days in a Spartan apartment in Brooklyn, relies on subtle shifts in mood and emotion. For Balaban—the actor turned director who made a splash with his directorial debut, "Parents"—close observation of the telling nuances of human behavior is an end in itself. First and foremost, he watches his actors, discovering in their faces and body language the drama that most other filmmakers find in action and story.

During the movie's early scenes, there is, in fact, almost nothing else to watch. A meticulous, regimented man, Joseph Kopple does not like surprises. Every day he follows the same monotonous but orderly routine, taking the bus to visit his friend Howard (the late Lionel Stander), who is slowly unraveling from Alzheimer's at a nursing home. Every day, death moves a little closer.

Then, suddenly, everything changes—and, at least for the sake of the audience, it's not a moment too soon. Kopple is informed that he owes the IRS back taxes. It's a big number, far beyond what Kopple is able to pay, and the thought that he will spend his remaining time on Earth trying to erase the bill makes him wonder if he shouldn't just check out early.

His rescuer—when she finally arrives, soaked to the bone and without a place to stay—is even worse off. A druggie on the outs with her dealer boyfriend (Adrian Pasdar) for botching a sale, Charlotte (Olivia d'Abo) looks as if she couldn't help herself, much less anyone else. With her hair falling in dirty, uneven strands across her face, she's the sort of rootless street urchin who thinks nothing of curling up on the floor of a perfect stranger's place for a couple of days.

However, the change for Kopple is profound. Not only does Charlotte disrupt his precious routine but, as an attractive young woman, she arouses feelings of youth and sexual conquest that had existed for the older man merely as nostalgic memories. The question, of course, is whether this carefully controlled individual will allow himself to be reached, and Mueller-Stahl does an expert job of revealing the man's defenses and his fear of opening up.

As Charlotte, d'Abo is even more impressive, perhaps because her grungy performance is so unexpected. As the older woman living upstairs from Kopple, Maureen Stapleton has a few spunky moments, and Stander's scenes with Mueller-Stahl are, if not the best moments in the film, then certainly the funniest.

That the story works out rather predictably does not come as much of a surprise. Nor does the "learning to stay young while growing old" message spoil the pleasure of watching these performers interact. Be advised, though, the pleasure is of the very small variety.

The Last Good Time is unrated.

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