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The Last Word – Movie Review

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The Last Word – Movie Review

Rating: C- (Below Average)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Elevation Pictures

It’s almost always pleasing to see a veteran actress play the lead role in a new film. The key is to make sure the script they’re handed and the film surrounding them is worthy of their talents. Shirley MacLaine does deliver as the crabby older woman who enlists Amanda Seyfried to write her obituary. However, director Mark Pellington directs The Last Word with an annoying sentimentality that gets more excruciating as the film goes on. The few moments of subtlety come from MacLaine, but even she gets bogged down by the direction. What begins on a promising note descends into Sundance pabulum before the end credits have rolled.

The best scenes are early on, when we’re treated to the interactions between MacLaine’s salty former advertising executive Harriet and Seyfried’s young journalist Anne. The screenplay, credited to first-timer Stuart Ross Fink, gives them enough amusing banter to develop a proper rapport. The sequences in which Anne tries desperately to find some positive attributes to give to her grouchy client are decently edited and with some occasional tongue-in-cheek camera angles. Philip Baker Hall is also a pleasure to see as Harriet’s ex-husband. Eventually, the script decides to throw in a series of subplots that unravel the entire project and we start descending into schmaltz.

A young child is brought in as a supporting character to show Harriet’s softer side and newcomer Ann’Jewel Lee is directed to be as precocious as possible. It’s a reminder of how one shouldn’t be too harsh on child actors who are forced to act cute for the camera. The script forces a scenario in which Harriet starts working at a radio station, which also leads to an unnecessary romance between Anne and the manager. The film more and more falls into speeches that come across as condescending to the audience and lack any sort of subtlety. The Last Word is overly directed, especially one embarrassing sequence in which the leads take a dip in a pond. It has no overall bearing on the plot and only results in cringing.

The speeches are cloying through most of the film. Whether addressing modern feminism, love, death or record albums, it’s pitched in a way that really wants the audience to think these characters are being meaningful. For a film where characters often explain the virtues of choosing the proper music in a radio play list, the soundtrack is all over the place. The songs distract, rather than compliment what we are seeing on-screen. Before you ask, yes, there is an awkward dance number. This is not at the fault of the actors, who are desperately trying to make the material work to the best of their abilities.

One wonders why Shirley MacLaine and Amanda Seyfried opted to not only star in The Last Word, but also executive produce it. One can see a potentially amusing comedy out of the central concept, but Mark Pellington takes it far too seriously. This is exactly the sort of stereotypical Sundance nonsense that makes people turn their noses up at the festival. It’s not without occasional moments of inspiration, but those are quickly forgotten under the sentimental claptrap which take up much of the third act. MacLaine and Seyfried seem intent on working together, so if somebody can give them a great or even an excellent script, that would be wonderful.

 

Stefan Ellison
THE SCENE

Stefan Ellison