So you’re reaching the end of your life, you wonder how you’re going to be remembered, if at all. Then you realise, everyone hates you. Your legacy is so utterly negative that your best hope is to be forgotten. What do you do? In journeyman director Mark Pellington’s film, based of first-time writer Stuart Ross Fink’s script, the answer is to write your own obituary.
Or at least, that’s what retired and rich businesswoman Harriet Lauler (Shirley MacLaine) decides to do when she realises she doesn’t have much many miles left on her clock. Indeed, Harriet bullies local newspaper editor Ron (Tom Everett Scott) into sending his obits writer Anne (Amanda Seyfried) to meet Harriet at home, get to know her, talk to friends and family and focus a life story article on the good stuff. Sadly for Harriet, there’s precious little good stuff to go around. On the bright side, it’s not too late to start cultivating something positive with the life she has left, and making friends with the young obits writer is a good place to start.
This well-intentioned tale serves more as a star vehicle for MacLaine than as a moving or amusing comedy-drama. Sure, there are moments of pathos interspersed through the light comedy that punctuates Harriet’s journey, but rarely does the script hit a chord or find any surprises as you’d expect from someone like, perhaps, Alexander Payne, whose films, particularly Nebraska and The Descendants, tread similar paths, but with more subtlety and smarts.
Where The Last Word does excel is in the casting. MacLaine hogs the limelight while Seyfried dutifully plays the straight role. Elsewhere, Philip Baker Hall drops in as the understanding, better-off-out-of-it ex-husband, Anne Heche puts in a day’s work as the estranged daughter, and Thomas Sadoski features prominently as the local radio boss who gives the cantankerous old Harriet a new job, and Seyfried a love interest. Plot-wise, there’s something a bit too forced about Harriet stumbling upon an orphaned black girl with a ‘tude, who comes along for the literal journeys, and it’s even stranger to see Harriet taking over a radio show and dishing out pearls of wisdom over the airwaves.
The character seems to be in search of purpose much like the script itself. It’s engaging enough to see through to the end, despite the material being so light it’s a wonder it doesn’t float away. But if you do find yourself short on time, The Last Word might not be your priority.
The Last Word is released on July 7th.