The Last Word (2017)
Prepare to be pleasantly surprised by this superbly acted, if slightly cliched, comedy
I didn’t expect much of The Last Word based on the IMDB synopsis — a retired businesswoman enlists a young journalist to write her obituary. And, indeed, as we meet Harriet Lauler (Shirley MacLaine) in the first few scenes, it’s not so clear this is going to be something we want to slog through for another 100 or so minutes. Harriet is a rich, elderly matron who’s obsessive, controlling … and not much liked, even by herself. She walks over her gardener, her maid, her hairdresser. These early scenes have just enough wry humor to keep you hanging in.
After a botched suicide attempt, she makes a decision. She needs to make sure that her obituary conveys her lifetime of accomplishments. Enter Anne (Amanda Seyfried), the obituary writer at the local newspaper who is coopted into writing Harriet’s obituary in advance.
And the movie lights up.
Harriet and Anne have their early oil-and-water moments as Harriet directs Anne to interview dozens of acquaintances and former colleagues. All of whom either detest her outright or can be coaxed only to grudgingly admit a touch of bitter respect.
It’s not hard to guess that, as Anne learns more about Harriett, and Harriett learns more about Anne, a contentious friendship begins to bloom. Filled with witty barbs and unexpected turns of action, acting magic happens as MacLaine and Seyfried deliver consummate performances that, taken apart, would be excellent, but taken together, are extraordinary. I was pleasantly rewarded for hanging in … it is, simply, a delight to watch them together. And as a bonus, AnnJewel Lee Dixon as Brenda, adds even more spark as young girl who Harriet scoops up when she decides she needs to mentor an at-risk youth.
The Last Word is far from a masterpiece. Die-hard movie addicts will be disappointed when they realize it’s heading along a predictable final trajectory, with no attempt to do much more than not over-milk the cliché ending. Watch it for the superb performances, witty dialog and occasional surprises along the way.