The Last Word is a funny and moving tale about a woman everyone loved to hate. It stars Shirley MacLaine, Amanda Seyfried, and AnnJewel Lee Dixon.
The three generations of female actors had such chemistry with each other. Young AnnJewel Lee Dixon has charisma that won’t quit. Amanda Seyfried demonstrated just the right amount of self-doubt and confidence. Shirley MacLaine is brilliant in a role she can do better than anyone: curmudgeon with a heart of gold.
MacLaine as Harriet is bored with herself now that she’s no longer working. She tries overdosing on pills and booze but does a bad job at it. Then she notices what nice obituaries people she knows are getting the in the local paper. Suddenly she has a purpose.
She marches down to the local paper and hires the obituary writer Anne (Seyfried) to write a great obit for her before she dies. It isn’t easy. Most people don’t have anything good to say about her. Anne digs and digs into Harriet’s life and begins to find that she was pretty damn amazing.
Harriet is convinced her obit won’t be as good as everyone else’s if she doesn’t have a story to tell about affecting someone’s life. So she finds Brenda, an at-risk kid (Dixon), at the local community center and takes her under her wing. Brenda has unlimited freedom to hang around with Harriet, one of several far-from-reality plot points in the story.
Anne rekindles Harriet’s interest in music and she becomes a radio DJ at age 81. A nice subplot with Anne: she works in a bit of a romance with the radio DJ she loves so much Robin Sands (Thomas Sadoski) because Harriet is at the radio station every day.
Anne forces her to go see her daughter (Anne Heche). Harriet hasn’t seen her in decades. Harriet learns she has two grandsons, her daughter is happy with her life, and is a doctor.
Harriet laughs at this news. The only time Harriet laughs is when she’s wrong. She laughs because she was wrong to think she was a bad mother all these years. Her daughter turned out all right. Vindicated, she heads home without even asking to meet her grandsons.
Harriet, Anne, and Brenda spend a night on the road as part of the trip to see Harriet’s daughter. Brenda thinks it is the best day ever. If Brenda can see the value in Harriet, then we should as well.
There’s meat on the bones of this comedy. Harriet is more than she seems. Anne has untapped writing talent. And Brenda is going to be somebody. Amid all the great one-liners and comedy trappings are interesting women both old and young.
I’ve been a fan of Shirley MacLaine since 1950 or so. We’ve grown old together. One of the things I enjoyed about The Last Word was the many photos of Shirley MacLaine going back decades scattered through the film. I remember her at those stages of her life.
I recommend this comedy about an obituary. Despite its flaws, The Last Word is funny, it has bite, and the cast is wonderful together.