There is not one moment in Last Chance Harvey that is remotely surprising, not a single extraordinary shot, not a line of dialogue that resonates in your soul hours after leaving the theater, not even a musical cue that you hum as you walk out. It is by a fair margin and according to every metric the most predictable of all this year's Oscarbait films, and I am including the biopic that opens with a scene explaining where, when, and by whose hand the protagonist is going to be assassinated. But Last Chance Harvey has another thing going for it besides mounds of creativity and originality: it is pleasing. There's a hell of an X factor right there, just being a pleasant movie that holds no surprises, but boasts strong performances by likable actors playing sympathetic characters. What hope has the cynical critic of standing in front of something like that and declaring, "This is lousy"? I like to think that I am not easily manipulated, but I found Last Chance Harvey to be entirely satisfying, and a perfectly worthy use of 100 minutes of my time. There are points in life when it does not do to ask any more of a film than this.

Quickly, the plot: Harvey Shine (Dustin Hoffman) is freshly arrived in London for his daughter's wedding, when he finds that he's been fired from his jingle-writing job that he kind of doesn't like, but goddammit, you need to have a job, right? Oh, and his daughter isn't super-excited to see him, since he has a long history of letting her down and embarrassing her, so she wants her stepdad to give her away at the ceremony. Meanwhile, Kate Walker (Emma Thompson) is sick of being single, sick of going on dates, sick of getting shit from her paranoid mother, and sick of her demeaning job snagging travelers at Heathrow for surveys. Their paths cross in an airport lounge, where Harvey suggests (uncharacteristically, we can assume), that it might be fun to spend the afternoon together. That afternoon turns into an evening at the wedding reception, and then into the following morning, and from there, well I can't give away the whole plot, can I?

But it's unlikely that even a borderline-savvy viewer won't see where things are going pretty much from the get-go. Of course something will happen to keep Harvey from keeping their meeting the following day, and of course Kate will be upset, and of course it will take all sorts of doing to get them back together, where they will conclude that it is much better to face an uncertain future together than an easily-predicted life alone. That's the kind of movie this is.

And I wouldn't have it any other way. Like any other kind of junk food, predestined love stories are nice as long as you don't have too many of them, and Last Chance Harvey pulls ahead of the pack thanks to a couple of secret weapons named Dustin and Emma. Basically, the film has already done all of its work from the moment those two actors appear: they're both effortlessly appealing in pretty much everything, allowing for the fact that every actor in history has a small clutch of dedicated haters. Though I'd assume that for Hoffman and Thompson, there are a lot fewer haters than for most performers. We root for Harvey and Kate simply because of how swell we expect they're going to be based on the thespians involved, which saves the film from having to do too much character-building other than to clarify that they're not total assholes. It's cheap, but it's fair: you couldn't get away with doing this in a film starring, say, Mickey Rourke and Marisa Tomei. There, the filmmakers have to justify that the characters have backstories and deserve our attention. I'm not insane enough to argue that The Wrestler isn't a substantially more durable film than Last Chance Harvey, of course, only that making a movie that asks us to like Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman just because we already like Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman really has no reason to fail. They're objectively likable people.

There's also the fact that writer-director Joel Hopkins isn't a complete idiot. He keeps the film from falling into the most obvious traps for this kind of story, most notably the one where Kate is a pixie woman who rescues Harvey from himself. It's a supremely canny move to introduce the characters separately and not bring them together for close on to a third of the film; we're almost as invested in her arc as we are in his (that "almost" is because, no way around it, Harvey has a more dramatic backstory). Kate and Harvey aren't completely rounded characters, but they're reasonably close, much more than usual for these types of films.

I am unquestionably grading on a curve. Last Chance Harvey is not a masterpiece, nor a great film, not anything but a genial, satisfactory waste of time. But hey, when you're in the mood for that kind of thing, you're in the mood. And besides, it's a bit of a thrill to see Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson get big ol' leading roles for a change: it's been more years than I can immediately count since either of them has had a proper starring role. This film is a fine example of why that's a shame: they're both fun to watch. My Lord, it's refreshing to find a film perfectly enjoyable without feeling like I have to be in love with it!