KEVIN KLINE and Maggie Smith in a scene from Israel Horovitz's "My Old Lady."

KEVIN KLINE and Maggie Smith in a scene from Israel Horovitz’s “My Old Lady.”

Add yet another to the list of titles used to describe Wakefield native Israel Horovitz: movie director. His film, “My Old Lady,” starring Kevin Kline, Maggie Smith and Kristin Scott Thomas, opened last week and is playing at theaters around the area including Hollywood Hits in Danvers.

Horovitz, who graduated from Wakefield High School in 1956, is best known as a playwright with more than 70 plays to his credit, many of which have been translated and performed worldwide.  “My Old Lady” is based on one of his plays, and Horovitz wrote the screenplay in addition to directing the movie.

Filmed on location in Paris, “My Old Lady” tells the story of a down-and-out middle-aged New Yorker, Mathias Gold (Kline), who has just inherited a Paris apartment from his estranged father. Upon his arrival to check out the apartment, he is stunned to find an old lady, Mathilde (Smith) and her protective daughter Chloe (Scott Thomas) living there.

Gold had spent his last cent on his plane ticket to Paris, where he intended to sell the apartment and use the proceeds to keep himself afloat amid a sea of debt he’s amassed for himself over the years and several divorces.

There’s only one problem. The apartment is a “viager,” an example of a unique French system of buying and selling properties. In this case, Gold’s father had purchased the Paris apartment many years ago from Mathilde’s late husband with the provision that the widow be allowed to live in the apartment until she dies. In addition, Gold must continue to make monthly payments to Mathilde for the rest of her life.

Of course, there’s a twist. It seems that there was more than a landlord-tenant relationship between Mathilde and Gold’s father, making for some interesting potential connections between the three main characters. Add Horovitz’s trademark blend of drama, humor and romance and you have a touching romantic drama about inheritance and past secrets coming home to roost.

Kline excels at playing glib, somewhat bumbling hard-luck cases like Gold. As Gold, he associates Paris with all that he despised about his largely absentee father, but as he learns more about both, we see his affection for the city – and his late father – grow.

Smith is perfect as the refined old woman Mathilde, born in England but having lived most of her 92 years in Paris, teaching English. She combines a kindly spirit with a no-nonsense approach and startles Gold at first with her directness.

“At my age, subtlety doesn’t interest me,” she informs her new landlord.

Gold’s guileless honesty about himself eventually melts even the cold-as-ice Chloe as she learns more of his past and their shared personal histories.

Horovitz is held in high esteem in France and the playwright’s own love of Paris is evident throughout “My Old Lady.” There are plenty of exterior shots, but since the film is based on a stage play it’s not surprising that much of the action takes place inside the apartment. Francophiles might come away wishing Horovitz had shown us even more of the city he loves, but that’s a minor complaint.

The family-themed “My Old Lady” is also a Horovitz family affair. Israel Horovitz’s oldest daughter Rachael Horovitz serves as a producer and Horovitz’s youngest son, Oliver, was Kevin Kline’s stand-in.

Rachael Horovitz’s recent hits include HBO’s Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning “Grey Gardens,” starring Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange, and Bennett Miller’s Academy Award-nominated “Moneyball,” starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill. She says she was attracted to “My Old Lady” for several reasons, including its rich casting potential and Parisian setting, but also because it gave her an opportunity to work with her father, who she describes as “the most prepared director I’ve ever worked with.” Above all, she praises Horovitz père for his professionalism, sense of humor and grace under pressure, each one a boon for the intimate, familial-themed “My Old Lady.”

“There is real humanity in this film thanks to those factors,” she concludes. “Working with a family member is always a pleasure because there is the shorthand of communication you have with few others.”

Alert movie-goers will also notice that a sign outside a Parisian doctor’s office that Kline’s character visits reads “Dr. Horowitz,” a slight variation on the author’s name.

While this is Horovitz’s first turn at directing a major motion picture, he is no stranger to the movies. He directed the documentary “Three Weeks After Paradise,” about his own family’s experience living in New York City during and after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.

He has also written screenplays for other Hollywood films, including: “The Strawberry Statement” (1970); “Author, Author” (starring Al Pacino and Dyan Cannon); “North Shore Fish” (based on another of his plays and starring Tony Danza); “Sunshine” (starring Ralph Feinnes and Jenifer Weisz); and “James Dean,” a biopic starring James Franco.

My Old Lady is the latest example of a Wakefield kid making good in the arts. But more importantly, it’s a damn good movie.