The Last Word (2017)

July 5th, 2017
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: Mark Pellington; Cast: Shirley MacLaine, Amanda Seyfried, Ann’Jewel Lee, Philip Baker-Hall, Anne Heche, Thomas Sadowski; USA 2017, 108 min.

Director Mark Pellington does his best to direct a formulaic script from debut writer Stuart Ross Falk – and more often than not succeeds with the help of Shirley MacLaine and a great ensemble cast.

MacLaine plays cantankerous octogenarian ex-advertising executive Harriet Lauler living out her days in a sumptuous villa where her gardener, cook and hairdresser are constantly fall short of her expectations – and replaced by Harriet herself. Her instinct to control everything goes even beyond the grave: she enlists Anne (Seyfried), the obituary writer of the local paper in the fictional city of Bristol, to write a piece singing her praises. Unfortunately, the checklist Harriet presents to Anne does not quiet work out: the matriarch is neither loved by her family (ex-hubby and daughter), nor admired by co-workers. And there is absolutely nobody whose life she has touched for the better.

Caustic as always, Harriet tries to remedy this by finding somebody from the target group of “minority or cripple”. But when she encounters Brenda (Lee) in a home for children at risk, the little black girl is very much a match for Harriet. Anne was abandoned by her mother when she was three, and has developed at developed a thick skin for dealing with the likes of Harriet, but she takes a leaf out of Brenda’s book, and develops a friendly but firm approach to counter Harriet’s obsessional control. This all seems convincing but Harriet’s long-suffering daughter Elizabeth (Heche) and her forgiving ex-husband Edward (Baker-Hill) are not fully sketched out and sometimes reality is suspended: Harriet not only finding a job as a morning DJ for the local radio-station, but also managing to set up Anne with the boss of the station (Sadowski, Seyfried’s real life husband). And when Anne’s clapped-out Volvo gives up the ghost after an – aborted – meeting with Elizabeth, Brenda ends up sleeping between the two women in a motel room, after a moonlight bath in the near-by lake.

Still, MacLaine’s performance compensates and carries the film through its pitfalls. The hopeful message about the interaction of three very different generations of North American females is told with great panache, even though at times a little over-didactic. MacLaine’s unsentimental approach and witty, self-depreciating humour makes sure that the soppy side of THE LAST WORD never wins out. AS


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