UK Release Date: 7th July 2017
Runtime: 108 minutes
Director: Mark Pellington
Writer: Stuart Ross Fink
Starring: Shirley MacLaine, Amanda Seyfried, AnnJewel Lee Dixon, Thomas Sadoski, Anne Heche, Tom Everett Scott
Synopsis: A cantankerous old woman concerned about her legacy brings in a journalist to write her obituary, while she is still alive, and changes her life to get a better write-up.
Films about grumpy and misanthropic old people being taught to see the world through different eyes are as old as cinema itself. The most recent entry in this inauspicious genre is The Last Word, in which six-time Oscar nominee Shirley MacLaine takes on the central role of a woman working to alter her legacy before coming to a shocking resolution at a time convenient to her emotional arc. So far, so generic. It’s a movie that sounds utterly ridiculous on paper and remains equally absurd in its execution, with bizarre characters and ludicrous plot turns that come out of nowhere just to get the film to the syrupy resolution it craves.
Retired businessman Harriet (MacLaine) tries to kill herself after a particularly lonely evening in her enormous home. After spotting the majesty of a well-written local paper obituary, she tracks down journalist Anne (Amanda Seyfried) and recruits her to write an obituary while she is still alive. When Anne draws a blank from former co-workers and Harriett’s daughter Elizabeth (Anne Heche), the duo decide to repair Harriett’s legacy in order to construct a more fitting goodbye for her life. Meanwhile, the women meet under-privileged youngster Brenda (AnnJewel Lee Dixon) and hipster radio DJ Robin (Thomas Sadoski).
Nothing about The Last Word ever floats in the vicinity of plausibility, instead drifting around inside some kind of bizarre, utopian fantasy. The film is completely all at sea in its depiction of struggling local newspapers, which apparently can afford a dedicated obituary writer, and radio stations, which hire old women at random if they have a large enough record collection. None of these characters have any relation to the real world, which therefore makes it incredibly difficult to identify with their struggles or care about their travails.
At the centre of it all is Shirley MacLaine, who bizarrely plays the character without any noticeable humanity, even once her supposedly redemptive arc has whirred into action. MacLaine’s considerable talents are not enough to inject any heart into this character and the script gives her nothing. Amanda Seyfried, meanwhile, acts incredibly hard but is unable to elevate the material. She gets some sharp early lines (“she puts the bitch in obituary”), but her character’s cutting and arch persona soon falls away into generic head-in-the-clouds idealism by the final scene. She seems to fall for MacLaine’s character, despite her lack of discernible character growth.
The Last Word is far too ludicrously morbid to be a successful comedy and too weirdly goofy to ever work as an emotional drama. It’s crass and flowery in equal measure. Indeed, the only oasis is AnnJewel Lee Dixon, who is witty, sharp and foul-mouthed as the young girl whom MacLaine’s character befriends so that she looks charitable in her final write-up. Dixon makes the most of her screen time and certainly seems more energetic than those around her, who have at least one eye on the cheque someone is presumably writing for them just out of shot.
Overall, there’s no reason to recommend The Last Word to anyone. It’s syrupy and silly and lacking in any connection to reality. There’s no emotional resonance to its story and not nearly enough laughs to recommend it as a comedy film. The talented cast is almost universally wasted and the direction views everything through a maudlin Sundance lens. At least it all ends with a song by The Kinks. Thank goodness for small mercies.
Pop or Poop?
Sentimentality meets silliness in The Last Word, which pulls implausible characters into an utterly ludicrous, idealistic world in which no one has real jobs or responsibilities. The performances are awful, the script is worse and the naked emotional manipulation of the third act simply does not work in the intended way.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.