Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Last Word (2017)

Mark Pellington (I Melt With You, Pearl Jam Jeremy) directs The Last Word. The only connection I see to this film and the rest of his filmography is a devotion to music and its transformative power. This is an actorly film. It was produced by Ms. MacLaine and her co-star Amanda Seyfried, both of whom own this film.
Harriet (MacLaine) is a cantankerous, strong-willed octogenarian, the kind of woman who realizes she needs help around the house but won't let that help do anything because they can't do it exactly as well as she can.

Though the film begins with stills of a young MacLaine, who usually played waifs, the character here is of the variety, MacLaine has been playing since middle age, starting with Terms of Endearment. 

She is  a reliable actress. There is no new shade to her here, but she does what she does very well. This is a successful star vehicle. The plot: Harriet, advertising genius, executive, mother, one time wife, is coming to the realization that not many people like here, and if she were to die tomorrow, her obituary might lack the omph that her actual life had. She enlists the help of Anne (the local obit writer played by Seyfried) to help her fashion a rest of life plan that will add a punch to her obituary.

It is worth noting that if an actor has a starring role in a film and is over 65, they very well could die in the film. I am not suggesting that Harriet will or won't die but the want to see older characters die on screen is totally lost on me. I would rather they all live unless they die for heroics or to serve the story meaningfully (think Connery in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen or Eastwood in Gran Torino). Warren Beatty, Sly Stallone and Woody Allen have so far (more or less) avoided this fate on screen but most have not.

Anne and Harriet figure that there are basic tenets to a life that make a good obit and set about making sure those bases are covered. The most amusing one involves helping a stranger. She chooses, quite deliberately  Brenda (AnnJewel Lee Dixon) a foul mouthed independent little black girl from the wrong side of the tracks. Speaking of foul mouthed, the profanity in this film is surprising. It is consistent and seems to go against the usual wishes of an older audience. One joke about the term fuck bomb completely falls flat. Anyway, Harriet gives Brenda and Anne lots of good advice and some bad advice. She finds a worthwhile part-time job, reconnects with her ex and her daughter and makes piece with her successes and failure. 

Some of this stuff is profound. Her response to her daughter is priceless. Her conversation with her ex (played by Philip Baker Hall) is one for the Oscar reel and her speech to an after school program is instructive. There are too many subplots. I did not care about Anne's other ambitions. I did not care about Harriet's work life, though Joel Murray is wonderful as always. MacLaine has a half dozen films in development. This won't be her swan song, but if it were, it's true, mostly unsentimental & worth watching