‘The Last Word’ lets down its star, Shirley MacLaine (review)

todayMarch 22, 2017

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The Shirley MacLaine vehicle, “The Last Word,” is like a car with too many gears. Unfortunately for MacLaine, screenwriter Stuart Ross Fink and director Mark Pellington use them all and in no particular order.

A lack of consistent emotional tone is the problem here. The movie begins on a dark note, moves on to being wacky, then turns earnest, then cutesy and then tragic. During the third act the story gets slammed back into wacky. Subplots sputter up from the uneven narrative like a mileage-heavy engine backfiring over and over again.

“The Last Word” finally finds its emotional coherency with a cogent and heartwarming checkered flag. It’s a classic case of too little way too late.

MacLaine, 82, plays Harriet Lauler, a successful but hard-bitten and controlling  retired advertising businesswoman. After a half-hearted suicide attempt she begins contemplating her legacy while reading the saccharine-dipped obituaries of her deceased contemporaries in the local paper.

Harriet uses her influence as a long-time advertiser in that paper to coerce the  young obit writer, Anne Sherman (Amanda Seyfried), into cobbling together a similar journalistic fantasy for her eventual demise.

The “novelty” here is that Anne must write an obit for a living person attempting to control her image.

Of course, as these things go in “life lesson” movies, sparks fly when Harriet and Ann attempt to collaborate on the obit. “She puts the bitch in obituary,” is Seyfried’s funniest line.

Things quickly go from predictable to preposterous as Harriett suddenly reveals herself to be a rabid pop-music aficionado. It wins her the drive-time slot as a disc jockey at the local indie radio station.

It turns out that Anne harbors thwarted dreams of literary greatness. She also still grieves for the mother who her left her and her father when she was a child. Harriet, conversely, hasn’t seen her only daughter in 20 years.

A precocious 8-year-old “at-risk” African American girl named Brenda, played by Ann’Jewel Lee Dixon, is rather cynically thrown into the mix for some misguided cutesy effect. The child drops more F-bombs than Joe Pesci.   This kid eventually gets Harriet to dance to hip-hop music, something which unlucky audience members will never be able to erase from their eyes or memories.

In the last half hour the movie finds its own rhythmic groove and rights itself, almost redeeming all the confusing, mish-mash narrative that came before.

“The Last Word” is a weak attempt to imitate the 1983 Best Picture-winning “Terms of Endearment,” which MacLaine knocked out of the park playing a similar, aging, feisty character named Aurora Greenway. That movie had the advantage of coming from the novel of the same name written by the brilliant Larry McMurtry.

A legend of MacLaine’s stature deserves credit for answering this call without fear and for making it as enjoyable as it is despite the script’s problems. She still has her chops. Hollywood is letting her — and the audience that still loves her — down.


The Last Word

Who: Directed by Mark Pellington. With Shirley MacLaine, Amanda Seyfried, Ann’Jewel Lee Dixon, Philip Baker Hall, Tom Everett Scott, and Anne Heche.

Rated: R (for language)

Running time: 108 minutes.

Opens: Friday

Where: Area theaters

Grade: C+


Source: cleveland.com

Written by: New Generation Radio

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