“The Last Word” is a new dramedy starring Shirley MacLaine as a woman determined to have the last word not only in conversation but also in life.
MacLaine is Harriet. A woman of a certain age, her best days are behind her. Once an advertising mogul, she controls every part of her life from how the gardener trims the hedges to how the cook prepares her eggs. Managing life is one thing but now she wants to control how she will be remembered after she dies.
It’s an uphill battle. “She is a human dark cloud,” says one “friend.” Her priest says she’s a “hateful woman” and when a former employee is asked to say one nice thing about Harriet she says, “If she was dead that would be nice.”
Her cynical search for a legacy leads her to Anne Sherman (Amanda Seyfried), the obituary writer at the local newspaper. Anne is an aspiring essayist so wracked with insecurity she can’t show her serious work to anyone. As a result she kills time writing about death for the paper.
The assignment is tougher than Anne imagined. “She puts the bitch in obituary,” she grumbles. When she can’t find anyone with anything nice to say about Harriet, let alone sing her praises, the older woman once again takes charge. Thus begins a campaign to lighten up Harriet’s legacy. “You are going to shape my legacy instead of just transcribing it,” Harriet says.
“The Last Word” is an extremely predictable movie. Ten minutes in you know that a.) the two women will bond and b.) at some point they will dance joyfully. In between they will learn from one another and we’ll discover that Harriet was not liked because no one could control her and Anne will find inner strength.
Predictable yes, but still somewhat enjoyable. It’s a pleasure to see MacLaine in a juicy lead role, even if she spends most of the time doling out life lessons. She commands the screen, elevating the grumpy-old-woman role in the process. Seyfried is spunky but underwritten as though she exists simply to give Harriet someone to talk to because no one else will.
“The Last Word” aims to have deep, meaningful things to say about life but never rises above the level of pop psychology and feel-good platitudes.