THE finality spelt out in the title of Mark Pellington’s film, The Last Word, leaves little doubt where we are heading in the 108-minute runtime. But there are few actresses that I would rather have steering that ship than the legendary Shirley MacLaine.
She plays Harriet Lauler, a retired business woman who thrives on control. She grabs the shears from the gardener to fix his shabby work before taking the knife from her chef to finish off dinner.
After forging her way in a male-dominated industry, she is hands-on and driven towards perfection – a character that MacLaine, bringing her gravitas to the role, pulls off with both ease and command.
Sadly, despite her drive, Harriet is edging towards death. She even tries to speed up the process by calmly attempting suicide with a bottle of wine and a few pills in her lonely house. It is a botched affair that leads Harriet to start thinking about her legacy and, more concretely, how well her obituary will read.
She heads to the local newspaper to seek out obituary writer Anne (Amanda Seyfried) and request her obituary is written before her death (she will not be able to control it from the grave). This request – granted because of Harriet’s history keeping the paper financially afloat – brings the two into intensely personal contact.
Of course, Harriet’s demanding attitude results in tension with Anne – who is the product of a less assertive generation. Their differences challenge each other to move out of their comfort zones and redefine their outlooks on life. Both spend time with a sweary ‘at risk child’ (Annjewel Lee Dixon) and take disc jockey spots at the local radio station.
The two are also bound by being at the opposite ends of strained mother-daughter relationships. MacLaine’s controlling nature, figuratively strangling those around her, pushed her daughter away many years ago. Anne, meanwhile, was left by her travelling mother at a young age – an emotional loss the writer has yet to overcome.
Despite these threads, Pellington gives the film a light touch with a number of beautiful sequences and a charming soundtrack, punctuated by The Kinks’ Waterloo Sunset.
Better still, MacLaine and Seyfried are a treat together on-screen.
Yes. This heartfelt film is better than most critics would have you believe. Let that be the last word – other than to suggest you to give the DVD a chance if you have not seen the film already.
The Last Word is out on DVD from October 9