I have just two words for The Last Word: Shirley MacLaine. The legendary star is back with a leading role worthy of
her talents and she lets it rip in this amusing, and ultimately touching, film
about an 81-year-old divorced woman determined to control her own departure by
creating her obituary while she is still alive.
As I say in my video review above, MacLaine rides
though this movie with supreme confidence and a complete understanding of just
who her character, Harriet Lauler, really is. It was a role written with her in
mind and she doesn’t disappoint. This is a woman who needs to be in charge of
every aspect of her life as we quickly see in her interactions with her
gardner, housekeeper, hair stylist, ex-husband, estranged daughter, and so on.
So it is only natural she would want to also control things even after she
has left the earth.
Following a near-death episode in which she “accidentally”
swallows too many sleeping pills mixed with a glass of wine, she stumbles on to
the Obituary section of the fading local newspaper, the Bristol Gazette
— an entity she helped a lot when she was a big-shot advertising
executive. Meeting with the paper’s editor (Tom Everett Scott), she uses her
clout to get him to assign their obituary writer Anne (Amanda Seyfried) to do the
job. After her initial research can’t turn up anyone on the list of 100 names
Harriet supplied who has anything good to say about the
woman (including the local priest!), she delivers the bad news, but Harriet
won’t take no for answer. She does her own research and comes up with the four
key qualities that make a great obit and proceeds, with Anne in tow, to go out
and do some perfunctory good deeds to provide the copy.
Along the way they are joined by a young girl, Brenda
(AnnJewel Lee), and it all turns into a much more life-enriching experience
than either woman ever expected as three generations end up inadvertently
giving one another the meaning of what a life well-lived can really be. A
sequence where Harriet even becomes a late-in-life drive-time DJ with a strong
knowledge of music, and love for The Kinks, is especially welcome.
If Harriet’s transition from crotchety to warm-hearted is
somewhat predictable, it is all in the playing here, and MacLaine and Seyfried
play nicely indeed off each other. Newcomer Lee is a delight, and there are
effective scenes with Philip Baker Hall as Harriet’s ex, and Anne Heche (giving
as good as she gets) as the estranged daughter. Thomas Sadoski also does fine
as the radio station manager they encounter, someone who Harriet thinks could
be just the guy Anne needs at the moment. Director Mark Pellington keeps things
movie at a strong pace and Stuart Ross Fink’s debut screenplay gives these
actors enough to work with to make this a solid spring entry that should have
strong appeal to older audiences still not willing to go gently into that good
But in the end this is all about Harriet, and with MacLaine
in charge things are right with the world. I particularly loved the title
sequence which is supposed to represent Lauler’s life in photos, but really
also show us how far we have come with MacLaine herself and what a life she has
had. Producers are Kirk D’Amico, Anne-Marie MacKay, and Pellington. Bleecker Street opens
the film in limited release Friday.
Do you plan to see The Last Word? Let us
know what you think.