The Last Word
dir Mark Pellington
scr Stuart Ross Fink
prd Kirk D'Amico, Anne-Marie Mackay, Mark Pellington
with Shirley MacLaine, Amanda Seyfried, Annjewel Lee Majestic Dixon, Thomas Sadoski, Anne Heche, Philip Baker Hall, Tom Everett Scott, Joel Murray, Steven Culp, Valeri Ross, Todd Louiso, John Billingsley
release US 3.Mar.17, UK 7.Jul.17
17/US 1h48
The Last Word
Makeshift family: Seyfried, MacLaine and Dixon

sadoski heche scott
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The Last Word There are moments of edgy insight and raucous wit scattered throughout this warm comedy, and they just about overcome the late-act surge in sentimentality. The characters are vivid and engaging, in a deliberately written sort of way, and they're sharply well-played by a strong cast. But the film wobbles under the weight of its platitudes, seemingly unaware that this has been said many times before.

After running her own hugely successful ad agency, Harriet (MacLaine) is so lonely in her old age that her thoughts turn to mortality. A relentless control freak, she doesn't dare leave her obituary to chance, so she hires local newspaper reporter Anne (Seyfried) to write it. Unable to find an angle, because Harriet has so few family or friends willing to talk, Anne pushes Harriet to start living a more outward-focused life, mentoring an under-privileged young girl (Dixon), deejaying for a local radio station and reconnecting with her ex-husband (Hall) and estranged daughter (Heche).

Thankfully, director Pellington and writer Fink keep the plot itself jagged and relatively surprising. Nothing unfolds as expected, and there are terrific characters all along the way who spice things up, like a romance between Anne and the radio manager (Sadoski) or a former employee (Murray) who helps Harriet get some closure. All of this plays out in an imaginative way that's sassy, involving and underscored by a magically amazing classic song score.

MacLaine is wonderful as Harriet, a force of nature with an uncanny ability to slice right through the unnecessary rubbish in any room. So it's easy to see why she has few friends, even if her isolation is contrived. Seyfried is likeable as always as the naive journalist who has never quite figured herself out, which is also unbelievable. But both of these women are so full of life that we go with it. And they're surrounded by solid supporting players in small but memorable roles.

What all this is saying isn't remotely original, mainly exploring dreams and ambition, inspiration and individuality, and the fact that it's the challenges and failures that make us who we are. But the premise feels fresh, and the eclectic cast of oddball characters is as enjoyable as a silly, well-worn sitcom. It's also always great to see the fabulous MacLaine in a leading role, which doesn't happen nearly as often as it should. And she's as inspirational as anything in the script.

cert 15 themes, language 7.Jun.17

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© 2017 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall