Everyone wants to live life well. When we shuffle off this mortal coil, we would like people to remember us. The legacy we leave behind hopefully pushes the ones we leave behind to do better. Unfortunately for Harriett Lawler, a former advertising executive, nobody remembers her fondly. Following a suicide attempt, she reaches out to an obituary writer named Anne to help her leave behind a lasting and positive legacy. What follows is Harriett’s journey of late in life self-discovery.
The Last Word is the kind of movie that wants to be about weighty themes like legacy and family, but ultimately falls short. The film gives the audience a set-up, and ultimately delivers on it. However, it plods along a detrimentally straight-forward path. Most of the film’s length comes from killing time to fill an hour until the two major set-ups pay off. It’s not a wholly unpleasant experience as it’s bolstered by actress who know what they’re doing.
Shirley MacLaine is a legendary actress. She’s the kind of performer that draws the audiences attention no matter what she’s doing. And, the same can be said for her in The Last Word. On paper it makes perfect sense for her to be drawn to this sort of picture. A lot of her performance feels as if she’s drawing her elder angst from her own experiences in show business. The desire for more is relatable and complex. Amanda Seyfried’s Anne holds her own against MacLaine, but her performance seems a tad unconfident. Ann’Jewel Lee plays an at-risk youth Harriet begins to mentor and she steals every scene she’s in. The young actress has a natural charisma that is bound to pay off should she pursue acting as a lifelong career. The Last Word features strong performances, but the actresses are let down by just about every element of the script.
The script for The Last Word feels like a solid episode of an hour long television drama stretched to just under two hours. So many of the story’s emotional beats are telegraphed in the film’s opening minutes. On top of that the dialog is often stilted to the point of falsehood. Characters make out of character decisions simply to move to the next “life lesson” for the audience. Scenes feel out of order in a narrative context, but drive home the point of the previous scene so they feel re-ordered. It’s a frustrating experience that stumbles and fumbles to a predictable end. It isn’t unearned, it’s simply toothless.
The Last Word is going to please many a mother and daughter spending a lazy Sunday renting movies and making junk food. It’s a light affair with lofty thematic ambitions. Unfortunately, for as universal as it’s themes are, they suffocate under the weight of awkward editing and a script full of platitudes. The main actresses do what they can to salvage the material, but are consistently betrayed by the clumsiness of it all. It’s not a complete train wreck, but it should be a lot better given its pedigree.
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