Film review | The Last Word: Getting it over with in style

The Last Word is a generic coming-of-age comedy covering two broad age-ranges in its emotional trajectory, and that coasts on both new and vintage star-power in an attempt at both accessible glitz and memorable poignancy • 2/5

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic
2 August 2017, 7:30am
Three’s company: Amanda Seyfriend, Shirley MacLaine and AnnJewel Lee Dixon
Three’s company: Amanda Seyfriend, Shirley MacLaine and AnnJewel Lee Dixon
Out of all of Hollywood’s most egregious affectations, the temptation towards ‘quirkiness’ is perhaps the most dangerous, or at least the most annoying, of them all. The desire to make something different and slightly off-beat while not rocking the boat of mainstream taste too hard often results in tepid films that can’t be bothered to admit to their trashiness and/or eager attempts to crowd-please as hard as they possibly can.

That is not to say that the largely well-intentioned and spottily heartwarming comedy The Last Word is the most obscene example of this abominable tendency. But it does lack energy where it truly matters, and we all know that a failure in pacing is fatal when it comes to this particular genre. 

A demanding and successful businesswoman, Harriet Lauler (Shirley MacLaine) now wants to die on her own terms. After all, her business is running smoothly under the stewardship of others, she has been divorced for a long time, and her daughter doesn’t want to hear from her. But a botched suicide attempt leads her to consider that maybe, leaving behind a good obituary is really the way to go. Enter Anne (Amanda Seyfried), the main obituary writer at a paper Harriet used to prop up with her money – a favour she promises to restart if the young hack (who dreams of becoming a bona fide essayist) will pen the perfect in-print swansong for this otherwise very much unlikeable old biddy. 

Royalty: Shirley MacLaine
Royalty: Shirley MacLaine
After her first philanthropic move – taking Brenda (AnnJewel Lee Dixon) a verbose inner city kid with a smart mouth and an aggressive dislike of the Dewey Decimal System under her wing – Harriet is all set to give Anne something decent write about. 

But it may be Anne’s life, too, that changes throughout the course of their unlikely friendship.  

Helmed by servicable but unremarkable TV, music video and occasional film director Mark Pellington, The Last Work is the kind of film where the ingredients seem to be there but the crackle to make them start is absent. Whether it’s a too-long pause between bouts of repartee or an off-key bit of delivery from MacLaine – who’s treated as unquestionable royalty from the first frame onwards – Pellington directs an otherwise fairly okay script by Stuart Ross Fink with an uninspired eye. Which is a shame, since aside from its formulaic trappings, there’s potential here: Seyfried and MacLaine make for a likeable pair, and the latter’s eleventh-hour efforts at scoring humanity-points do give way to a couple of memorable set-pieces – the best of which perhaps remains her long-gestating confrontation with an equally perfectionist and uptight daughter Elizabeth, played with stinging panache by the equally long-absent Anne Heche.  

The Last Word is a generic coming-of-age comedy covering two broad age-ranges in its emotional trajectory, and that coasts on both new and vintage star-power in an attempt at both accessible glitz and memorable poignancy. That it never quite hits the mark can just about be forgiven thanks to its – broadly speaking – well-realised character arcs and dashes of inspired repartee. A vaguely uplifting piece of fluff.

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic is MaltaToday's culture editor and film critic. He joined t...