Review: “The Last Word”
I had high hopes for “The Last Word”, given that Shirley McClaine is a dynamic and compelling actress and the trailer looked hilarious. All my instincts were correct. Not only was she impressive, so were the rest of the cast and I am very glad I got the opportunity to see this movie.
Shirley McClaine stars as Harriett, a retired businesswoman in her eighties who tries to control everything and everyone around her, even trying to cut her own hair when at the hair salon. When she reads an obituary in the newspaper, she realizes that she’s all alone and decides that she wants her story told before she dies so she can control the story. She picks out a young journalist, Ann Sherman (Amanda Seyfried) to do the job.
Ann begins but quickly finds that not only is Harriett divorced, she is also estranged from her only daughter. Harriett doesn’t have any friends or acquaintances who are willing to speak well of her. She gets angry when Ann gives her what she has but decides to come up with a different plan. Instead, Harriett will build a new legacy, recruiting Ann to assist.
They begin by going to a local community center where Harriett finds a sassy young girl named Brenda (AnnJewel Lee Dixon) to mentor. Harriett believes mentoring her will look good. Next, Harriett takes her old records down to a local radio station and demands a job as a disc jockey for the morning show to build a new persona. In the meantime, Ann begins discovering a history of genius about her new friend and colleagues long forgotten who remember how great Harriett was to them.
And as Harriett builds her legacy, so too does she connect with Ann and teach her lessons about living a life worth remembering, about building a life of meaning. She not so incidentally introduces her to the owner of the radio station, Robin Sands (Thomas Sadoski) who Ann ends up dating. But this story isn’t about romance. It is about the interaction between the women, building bonds even in the face of obstacles, weaving love and empathy. Ann helps Harriett reconnect with her daughter but Harriett becomes the mother figure that Ann needs in her life, her own mother having left her as a child. And by the end of the movie, Harriett has created a legacy that will live on long after her life.
Their friendship, Brenda’s friendship and the others that Harriett has connected with over the years is what this movie is about, how we shape the people around us and how we can make an impression at any point in our lives. Harriett doesn’t have a family but over the course of the film, she builds a new family with Ann and Brenda. She also reconnects with her ex-husband and her daughter. What I enjoyed most was how well the film develops the emotional closeness between Harriett and Ann, as Harriett challenges Ann into finding a life full of courage and risks instead of hiding, unwilling to grow. The exploration of their relationship, built on challenges and humor, is what makes this film well worth watching.
Shirley McLaine is hilarious as an outspoken, blunt Harriett Lauler while Amanda Seyfried as Ann Sherman keeps up with the indomitable actress. Amanda is sensitive and charming as Ann. AnnJewel Lee Dixon as Brenda is an adorably spunky addition, dancing adding sass to the film. Even secondary characters stole scenes as Thomas Sadoski as Robin Sands is funny and charming. Anne Heche as Elizabeth does a great job with her role as Harriett’s daughter, giving us a view of how alike the two are and why their relationship suffered. The writers have done a wonderful job of showing all of these relationships with style, grace, and warmth.
While this movie does a fantastic job of exploring the bonds of between the women, there are few new ideas, however. In addition, Ann Heche feels like she is wasted in her part. She is a good actress but we don’t really get to see much of her in this film. Nor do we get to see very much of her relationship with her mother. We do get to see a mother daughter bond between Harriett and Ann but Ann Heche was terribly underutilized.
The film is funny and there is warmth and love between Harriett and Ann. The movie made me laugh and cry. Shirley McClaine is fabulous, Amanda Seyfried does the best performance I have ever seen of her and the ending was touching. If you like movies with female leads, about the emotional connection between women or just love a good comedy with an older lead, check it out. I know I loved it.
Rating: 4 stars