Wednesday, March 01, 2017

“The Last Word”– Movie Review



This week, I attended a New York Times Film Club screening of the new comedy-drama “The Last Word”, starring Shirley MacLaine and Amanda Seyfried.


When an elderly woman hires a reporter to author her obituary, can a flattering piece be written despite her history of mistreating people?


Harriet (MacLaine) was once a supremely successful advertising executive who decades ago started her own agency; after being forced out by her partners, she has been in retirement ever since.  Still a disagreeable control freak, she finds herself increasingly bored with little for her to do.  Realizing that she is nearing the end of her life, Harriet decides to hire a journalist from a newspaper to compose her obituary; while it may be a bit premature, she figures that if it’s completed before her death, she can see that it gets inscribed to her high standards and that the final record about her will be fawning.

Anne (Seyfried) is an aspiring author with the unfortunate task of penning the obituaries that appear in the local newspaper for which she toils.  Having read Anne’s work in the paper, Harriet heads to the newsroom to meet with her; she offers Anne the job of helping her to draft her yet-to-be-published panegyric.  However, Anne is understandably reluctant to accept the offer for a number of reasons – the least of which being Harriet’s imperious personality.  Ultimately, Anne’s boss convinces her to go for it, reasoning that if she manages to please the wealthy Harriet, the dowager will bequeath a tidy sum to his newspaper upon her demise – thereby saving everyone’s job.

The initial research performed by Anne includes interviewing Harriet’s acquaintances, former co-workers and a variety of people with whom Harriet associated over the years.  Unfortunately for them, none of the interviewees had anything nice to say about Harriet.  Disturbed by the responses she’s gotten, Harriet and Anne embark on a mission wherein Harriet will set out to mend fences with the various people whom she’s somehow managed to offend.  But once Harriet learns that she’s rapidly running out of time, can Anne provide her with the obituary she seeks before it’s too late?


There is much about “The Last Word” that is predictable – the least of which might be the ending, especially based on the title.  But there are many other things in this movie which are trite, which render it unworthy of a recommendation.  A considerable number of items in this screenplay seem most unrealistic and highly contrived, making one wonder if this story was supposed to have occurred in the present day or twenty years ago; references to technology immediately come to mind (e.g., people listening to music on CD’s or watching videos on VHS cassettes). 

As you might expect, MacLaine’s character is supposed to be the “gruff but loveable” type who attempts to seek redemption by performing certain deeds late in life – such as meeting with her ex-husband, estranged daughter (Anne Heche) and mentoring a nine-year old African American girl (Ann'Jewel Lee, who manages to overact up a storm).  Indirectly, viewers are expected to believe Harriet has also had a positive impact on Anne.  Apparently, the lesson we are to learn from this is that bad behavior can be forgiven if you are a woman.  Hardly a feminist message.

Does this character achieve the redemption she seems to so desperately seek?  It would depend on how much of the story you bought up until that point.  The audience is expected to weep towards the end, yet cheer for Anne because of all she “learned” from Harriet in the preceding hour and a half.  Ultimately, it would seem that Harriet did not sufficiently perform the full character arc one would expect in such a story.  Whether that is noble individualism or simply insufficient screenwriting may eventually rely on how you view the character to begin with. 

The Last Word (2017) on IMDb

No comments:

Post a Comment

Speak Your Piece, Beeyotch!