The Last Word is a rare and unusual treat which ignores the obsessive boundaries of Hollywood genre filmmaking, and is all the richer for it. It takes a while to find its groove, however; the opening, characterised by expensive interiors and clumsy scoring, threatens bland out-of-the-mould filmmaking. Yet The Last Word emerges as an idiosyncratic drama populated with riotous odd couples, witty obituary-themed euphemism, and hugely enjoyable characters.
Like Paul Weitz’s Grandma, The Last Word follows a delightfully and unapologetically fractious older woman (MacLaine). Also like Grandma, it’s a chronicle of platonic female intergenerational relationships. Perhaps it wouldn’t have been made without its big-name stars, both of whom are on fantastic form. The key to its enjoyment is in apt casting and the bravery of Stuart Ross Fink’s script. His characters are gutsy and spiky to the point of potential unlikeability, their mutual irritability breeding crackly, dialogue-driven comedy and, gradually, deep empathy. Seyfried is cast against the ingénue type she’s often embodied and excels in playing this edgier character. Fink’s screenplay is commendably sparse, resisting the urge to fill quiet moments with half-baked one-liners that many comedies succumb to, and furnishing Seyfried with the opportunity to be more facially expressive than she’s been elsewhere.
Further joy comes from the debut performance of the appropriately named AnnJewel Lee Majestic Dixon, even if the protagonists’ effective kidnapping of her character is troubling and strains credulity.
As with many dramas, distributors will be stumped on how to market The Last Word. So take our word for it; this is an absolute hoot and also offers inspiring insights on life, taking risks, and changing for the better. The trajectory of fraught tolerance giving way to love and respect is of course a hackneyed one, but it doesn’t matter when it’s so damn heartwarming.
CAST: Shirley MacLaine, Amanda Seyfried, AnnJewel Lee Majestic Dixon, Thomas Sadoski
DIRECTOR: Mark Pellington
WRITER: Stuart Ross Fink
SYNOPSIS: Harriet is a successful, retired businesswoman who wants to control everything around her until the bitter end. To make sure her life story is told her way, she pays off her local newspaper to have her obituary written in advance under her watchful eye. But Anne, the young journalist assigned to the task, refuses to follow the script and instead insists on finding out the true facts about Harriet’s life.