Shirley MacLaine saves the day with her final say as a controlling but magnetic Harriet in The Last Word – but some aspects of the film let the interesting concept down.
Have you ever read Mindy Kaling’s memoir? A chapter from Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me, where she speaks about the preparation for her funeral, comes to mind when you start watching Mark Pellington’s flick. Let’s take a look: Harriet, once a queen of advertising, ends up in a hospital after downing her medicine with wine. When she spots an obituary in a local newspaper, she requests an introduction to the young writer whose sole job is to prepare them – and she reaches out to the journalist, planning to showcase her own legacy. But as of yet, nobody has anything pleasant to say about her. That’s why she decides to rewrite the story, or put a definite plot twist that’d make her respected, and comes up with four points that her obituary should cover.
Although the storyline is indeed quirky, it doesn’t always hit the top notes along the way. The script itself keeps the characters caged in the stereotypes. We’ve got an elderly bitter lady, an antiheroine liked by absolutely no one. She strangled her relationships along the way and yearns for closure which she can’t get with the current state of things. Shirley MacLaine puts a lot of effort into her performance, fully owning it, but the plot doesn’t give her a springboard that’d take her to the top heights. Amanda Seyfried’s character is a quiet rebel who writes at a local newspaper with a pocketful of essays in her drawer. She wants to be more courageous – but her Anne can’t avoid the conventional pitfalls, either. We see her as a tormented artist even when she claims she doesn’t want to be perceived as such.
AnnJewel Lee Dixon as a disadvantaged girl brings a lot of joy into the film when the ladies come over to the local community centre in one of the most ironical scenes of all times. Harriet needs an “improvement case” so she just picks one of the girls she meets for a spiritual makeover; the script shuts it down and makes it patronising and strange more than anything else. But the girl’s charisma and energy can’t be overlooked, and it’s a lovely introduction to her as an actress.
However, besides the flawed execution, the message that the film is trying to spread is somewhat positive. The relationship between Harriet and Anne and how they influence each other’s life is totally feel-good and secures a few funny moments. Coupled with the poppy soundtrack, it ticks all the boxes on the list of the genre elements.
It takes a little bit for the film to warm up and start telling the true story behind the premise: not everything is what it seems, and the uncompromising coldness that Harriet seems to give out doesn’t have underlying vile motivations. This final redemption adds the weight to the film, even if it’s a little too late to make it fully resonate. But if you’re in a mood for a warm but fuzzy flick, The Last Word could make for a relaxed night out in the cinema with popcorn and a friend.
The Last Word is out in the UK on the 7th of July 2017.