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The Last Word
Drama, Comedy
IMDB rating:
Mark Pellington


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Shirley MacLaine as Harriet
AnnJewel Lee Dixon as Brenda (as Annjewel Lee Majestic Dixon)
Valeri Ross as Wanda Byers (as Valerie Ross)
Yvette Freeman as Housekeeper
Thomas Sadoski as Robin Sands
Gedde Watanabe as Gardener
Anne Heche as Elizabeth
Adina Porter as Bree Wilson
Steven Culp as Sam Serman
Tom Everett Scott as Ronald Odom
Todd Louiso as Dr. Morgan
Joel Murray as Joe Mueller
The Last Word Storyline: Harriet (Shirley MacLaine) 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 (Amanda Seyfried), the young journalist assigned to the task, refuses to follow the script and instead insists on finding out the true facts about Harriett's life, resulting in a life-altering friendship.
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Watch it for Shirley MacLaine's performance
"The Last Word" (2017 release; 108 min.) brings the story of an elderly woman, Harriett. As the movie opens, we get a montage of pictures from Harriet's baby days all the way to today as the opening credits roll by. We then get to know Harriett, as she is at home, bored and unsure what to do with herself. Her interactions with staff and the hairdresser are anything but nice. Then one day she see an obituary in the newspaper, and panic-stricken, she wonders how she'll be remembered. She takes matters in her own hands and engages Anne, the newspaper writer responsible for these obituaries, sending her off to meet a list of "friends and family" that Harriett gives her. Turns out that nobody on that list has anything nice to day about Harriett... At this point we're 15 min. into the movie but to tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.

Couple of comments: this movie is directed by Mark Pellington, best known for his work in the music industry (he directed the "U2 3D" movie, among others). Here he seemingly goes in a completely different direction, how a controlling, not-so-nice older, rich woman deals with how people may remember her after her death. If it sounds a bit macabre, well it is. But worse, unfortunately for the viewer, the movie's plot is so utterly predictable, that there are very few surprises, if at all. "She puts the bitch in obituary!", complains Anne to her boss at the Bristol Gazette. But very thankfully, at least from my perspective, the movie does find some redemption because, as it turns out, Pellington hasn't abandoned his music roots entirely, and in fact a significant part of the movie relates to a (fictitious) radio station called KOXA, "independent music for independent minds". Hence we get treated to a TON of fabulous music (The Regrettes, Witch, the Kinks, Salty Dog, and many, many more). The movie's other winning formula is of course the two lead performers, Shirley MacLaine (as Harriett, MacLaine is now a crisp 82 yrs. young), and Amanda Seyfried (as Anne), and both also executive-produced the film. Anne Heche has a small role as Harriett's daughter. Bottom line: this is an okay and entertaining movie, in the laziest kind of way, but the utter predictability undermines its strength.

"The Last Word" premiered to positive press (mostly for MacLaine's spunky performance) at the Sundance Film Festival in January, and it opened at my local art-house theater here in Cincinnati this past weekend. The Tuesday evening screening where I saw this at was attended nicely for a weeknight. The (mostly older) audience absolutely LOVED it, laughing and hollering on many occasions. If you are in the mood for an okay funny if mostly predictable movie starring the iconic Shirley MacLaine in a role she clearly relishes, you might want to give to a try, be it in the theater, on VOD, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray.
Overall: Mixed (Home Viewing)
While The Last Word is certainly a touching movie, one which has MacLaine exhibit a strong performance, showing she still, and always will, have it, she overpowers her fellow actors. Which for little Lee Dixon is fine, you can see she is learning from going toe to toe. However, with Seyfried, you expect better. Now, one has to admit, the way Anne is written doesn't help things. But considering a little kid, who comes off stereotypical, somehow was able to push through very said about her background, you'd think Seyfried could as well. But, instead, she just looks bewildered and as if, like with most of her films, she has no reason to take responsibility to do the heavy lifting, in terms of giving the movie some kind of oomph. For, after all, there is always someone more experienced, someone funnier, and someone who can better create the chemistry between characters, who can do that for her. Hence the mixed label since while MacLaine is wonderful and Lee Dixon a possible star in the making, Seyfried damn near uses them both as crutches.
This great mix of well-established talent with others just starting out makes for one enjoyable film.
Actress Shirley MacLaine has had quite a career – and an interesting life. She was ahead of her time in being a very independent-minded career woman… and developed a reputation for being difficult to work with. She had a decades-long marriage which ended in divorce, but produced one child, a daughter. In her later years, she has remained active in trying to shape her legacy, which is clearly seen in her 2017 comedy-drama "The Last Word" (R, 1:48). Advertising executive Harriet Lauler has had quite a career – and an interesting life. She was ahead of her time in being a very independent-minded career woman… and developed a reputation for being difficult to work with. She had a decades-long marriage which ended in divorce, but produced one child, a daughter. In her later years, she has become active in trying to shape her legacy, which is what the 2017 comedy-drama "The Last Word" is all about. Now, art-imitating-life parallels aside, playing Harriet serves to remind us how busy MacLaine has remained, on screens big and small, even as her 70s drifted into her 80s – and what a singular talent she remains.

"Control is very important to Harriet," one character observes. That's an understatement – and an incomplete one too. Not only has Harriet Lauler (Shirley MacLaine) always exerted control over as many parts of her life as possible, she was always been very disagreeable as she did so. Years ago, she angrily quit the ad agency that she helped to found because she didn't like how one of her clients conducted a focus group. She once told her gynecologist(!), "When I want your opinion, I'll give it to you." Her parish priest even admits, "I hated her. So much." These days, Harriet's retired. She lives alone in her big house and exerts her brand of rude control by chastising her gardener for trimming her hedges from top to bottom, instead of from bottom to top, as she has instructed him, "many times" he admits with a sigh. Then, when she reads someone's obituary in her local newspaper, she finds something else to control.

Harriet visits the paper's offices and asks the editor, Ronald Odom (Tom Everett Scott), to introduce her to the obituary writer, Anne Sherman (Amanda Seyfried). Sitting behind Ronald's desk, Harriet gives Anne the assignment to write her obituary now, so she can be sure she'll be satisfied with what will be published about her in the newspaper after she is gone. Ronald tells Anne that Harriet had been a great friend to the paper when she did ads for Ronald's father and implies that she might remember the paper in her will. "Make her happy," is Ronald's simple instruction to Anne, who reluctantly gets to work. The problem is that there just isn't much to say about Harriet beyond her past career accomplishments – and Anne can't find a single person to say anything nice about her – even from the list of names that she received from Harriet herself. Naturally, Harriet is dissatisfied with Anne's first draft – and tells her so.

Harriet has read a number of obituaries and determined that there are four things that make a good obituary: a loving family, the respect of co-workers, touching the life of someone who needs a helping hand and… a wild card, something unique in the life of the deceased that provides the proverbial icing on the cake. Harriet knows that Anne won't write anything about Harriet that is not truthful, so she gets Anne to help her "shape a legacy". Without giving away how all of this shakes out, I'll just say that this journey puts Harriet and Anne in touch with Harriet's ex-husband (Phillip Baker Hall), Harriet's estranged daughter (Anne Heche), a former co-worker (Joel Murray), an at-risk youth (AnnJewel Lee Dixon) and a charming disc jockey (Thomas Sadoski). And as the two women work together on Harriet's unusual project, she does some unwelcome, but well-intentioned meddling in Anne's personal life as well.

"The Last Word" is a relatively original and very well-done genre film. Sure, it's formulaic, but movies use formulas for a reason. The real question is whether the film tells its story effectively and this one definitely does. The script from Stuart Ross Fink (writing his first feature) creates a fresh take on the trope of examining a life not-so-well-lived and gives us interesting characters. The excellent actors bring out the nuances in those characters and director Mark Pellington ("Arlington Road", "The Mothman Prophecies") gives the film a great balance of comedy, drama, life lessons and just plain fun. The film's ending may be predictable, but getting there is a very rewarding experience. Movie Fans (especially fans of Ms. MacLaine) will likely be thankful that, with other projects in the works, this film won't be the last word in Shirley MacLaine's stellar career. It also makes us look forward to much more to come from the talented Seyfried, the spunky newcomer Dixon and rookie writer Fink, with this impressive debut. This great mix of well-established talent with others just starting out makes for one enjoyable film. "A-"
Very Enjoyable
I have to admit going into this a little unprepared and not sure what to expect. I hadn't read any write ups and went in with very little knowledge of what the movie was about.

I nearly always like Shirley MacLaine movies, she rarely does a bad one and Amanda Seyfried usually does OK. This was no exception and Shirley MacLaine really shines in this one. The roles is not really new, we have seen her in this type of role before so it is one she is either picked for or picks for herself.

Amanda Seyfried does quite well, but the real performance to look out for is from AnnJewel Lee Dixon, she really does make for a fun movie and steals some of the scenes she is in from Shirley MacLaine.

Word of warning, if you don't like the use of foul language by young children you may not like this movie, be prepared for that.

Some would say this is a predictable movie, so be it, it probably is, but it is also very entertaining and worth the price of admission.

8/10 for me and I would see it again.
How to destroy an icon
Oh my God! Shirley, one of the greatest actresses of all time, has not deserved this. Consistently bad acting throughout all parts of the movie and all actors, even Shirley, sloppy directing and a story that has more holes than a Swiss cheese. Not one bit of the movie is believable, not one minute touching or moving. I was so excited to finally see the movie, all the more was I disappointed. This is how you destroy the fame of an icon. Pity.
Escapism for the Elderly
I should honestly be impressed that The Last Word gets away with as much as it does. It starts as one of those stereotypical light-weight puff pieces. The kind that gears itself toward the fussy, all-knowing, film festival crowd, then hits them over the head with the same mindlessness they claim to avoid by not watching mainstream films. The irony of course is they're never made aware that they're watching strategically released pabulum because they're "too smart and refined" (and white) to subject themselves to the latest common blockbuster. The Last Word is basically the cinematic equivalent of "The Emperor's New Clothes," for old people.

The Last Word stars aged Hollywood icon Shirley MacLaine who basically takes the hindsight throne that was previously sat on by Meryl Streep in Ricki and the Flash (2015) and Al Pacino in Danny Collins (2015). She plays, of course a mortality aware loner who decides she wants to change her life with the help of a permanently brought-aback obituary writer (Seyfried) and later on, a sassy little black girl (Lee Dixon) whose tokenism would be offensive if it wasn't so carelessly stilted. Within the course of a month, Harriet Lalor (MacLaine) decides to reconstruct her legacy in the following order of importance: touch someone's life unexpectedly, find that certain something extra, be respected by her community and be beloved by friends and family.

What immediately elevates Last Word from other pedestrian feel-good movies like this, is the inclusion of Shirley MacLaine. With over fifty years of experience playing acid-dipped battle-axes, MacLaine easily transcends the film's paltry story and annoyingly analog aesthetics. She does so well playing the quintessential shrew that every other one-note character fades into the background like a white wall against a bright tapestry.

Of course, if sassy repartee alone was enough to elevate a bomb I'd be working for a publication by now. Literally everything else in this film suffers from clumsily sets up reveals and embarrassingly artificial sentiment. We see it all coming yet no effort is made to keep the script itself engaging or the least bit deserving of such an off-the-wall character. Why is Lalor hated by her family, why was she ejected by the advertising agency she started, why does literally everyone she meets want to kill her? The answers to all these questions will likely give OCD sufferers reason to get off their meds while giving babyboomers license to continue being s***ty people.

What saves The Last Word from ultimately being beyond redemption is the very clear inference that the movie is a fantasy. It's a very treacly fantasy and one that would needle audiences outside its demographic into a permanent eye-twitch. Yet for those who just can't fathom why young whippersnappers like me can't just point to a place on a map and go, The Last Word is just what the doctor ordered. Consider it the last movie you'll see before euthanasia.
Beautiful story and really great music
This movie was such a treasure. Who among us doesn't wonder what people will say when we die? A real poignant telling of a person taking stock of their life with humor and grace, even though she wasn't quite seen in that light for most of her life. Such great moments on how to be brave and lead when it's scary to do so. And how to figure out what you want when it's easier to just do what you're told.

Watching Harriet journey through to find "the 4" main things that would allow her to let go of her control-filled life and finalize her legacy makes you pause and think about the mirror we all will have to raise at the end of our days to see if this is in fact where we want to leave off - if you have the luxury to do so.

What I have not seen mentioned anywhere is how great the soundtrack is. Wow. I would like to buy it right now, please. If there was time to expand on this part of the movie, it could have evolved into a senior version of High Fidelity.

Worth it. Thumbs up.
The Curse of A CHRI$TMAS CAROL is the "gift" that keeps on . . .
. . . giving, but let's look Charles Dickens' Gift Nag in its mouthful of rotten teeth through its latest permutation, THE LAST WORD. Shirley MacLaine is cast here in the Ebenezer Scrooge role, and manages to turn all gooey, saccharin, and philanthropic without seeing ANY ghosts. (This Myth of Fat Cat One Per Center Greedheads with hearts of gold has given us our current Vicelord--a man after Dickens' own heart in terms of dumping Baby Moms and latching onto the newer models--Red Commie KGB Chief Vlad "The Mad Russian" Putin's Puppet Rump.) Realists and film fans will remember that throughout IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, evil slumlord Old Man Potter NEVER turns over a new leaf to give even one sucker a break. That's how Real Life works; NOT along the lines of these feel-good Cinderella fantasies (that is, upward mobility for the Poor, thanks to Rich People) featuring Scrooge or Ms. MacLaine's "Harriet Lawler." In other words, Oligarch Putin will NOT let Oligarch Rump continue ObamaCare, Medicaid, Planned Parenthood, Social Security, or Medicare, and Satan will NOT rip up the pacts they've signed, no matter how many feet they have in their graves.
for real music lovers and a delightful movie!
I loved this movie! I wasn't sure I would like this movie. not because I don't like shirley mc laine. Because I love her work. But because I hadn't heard anything about the last word. What a great movie! the story is beautiful and it takes the person watching it to feel involved with her journey and the people that get to know her learn a great lesson. the MUSIC is magical!! I am not sure who they all were but I want to find out if there is a soundtrack!I heard the kinks. But really must not have listened to them. since they were some of the musicans in this movie. love music and a good story. watch this delightful move the Last Word
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