Shirley MacLaine seems to have the curmudgeonly older woman role down pat, and appears to have been doing it more or less for a couple of decades now, at least Terms of Endearment, which she did in (looks on IMDb) holy crap, 1983! Nevertheless, it may be the same general role but she has fun with various nuances of it through the years, and The Last Word is another installment into the niche she created for others.
Written by Stuart Ross Fink in his first script, directed by Mark Pellington (Henry Poole is Here), MacLaine plays Harriet, who has been estranged from her husband Edward (Philip Baker Hall, Bad Words) and daughter Elizabeth (Anne Heche, Wild Card) for long periods of time, but she retains a bit of clout as a powerful figure in a marketing company. Open learning that she might not have that much longer on this mortal coil, she employs Anne (Amanda Seyfried, Love the Coopers), a local newspaper writer of obituaries, to write one about her. Anne finds the challenge daunting, but then the eventual relationship which develops between polar opposites finds some life.
There is an intriguing ensemble here, one with potential in its character relationships but for all of its potential, The Last Word does a good deal in sabotaging it with the painfully ordinary. MacLaine's Harriet is set in her cantankerous nature, and Anne is employed to serve as the changing of her ways, as it were. And the film spends enough time doing this that you are numbed by anything else they try to do to make Harriet an empathetic character. Whether its personal or professional, the aspect of Harriet's life serve little in the way of elevating the material. It was nice to see MacLaine and Hall onscreen together albeit briefly but at the end of the scene the story felt like a diminishing of their talents.
To be fair, it's not like MacLaine or Seyfried are good nor bad, it's just that they are kind of onscreen, inhabiting these spaces together for most of the time. MacLaine is wonderful though she's wonderful in most anything she does. Seyfried is fine, despite her character going through some strange personal evolution that feels out of place given the story. But neither make you think about their work in the film after you're done watching it, they're just going through the motions expected of themselves and one another. The introduction of young Brenda (AnnJewel Lee Dixon) is supposed to serve as a nod to the impression of obituaries that Harriet discusses early on, but as the film unfolds makes her appear as less of a comedic or emotional touchstone but more of a shoehorned, unnecessary plot device.
It's not necessarily that The Last Word moved the needle towards good or bad over the course of its story. But given the opportunity to do so, it didn't really do anything. It was more of a forgettable film than a memorable one in either direction. And I'd be willing to hunch it that the actors felt the same way.The Blu-ray:
Universal's AVC encode that graces The Last Word isn't bad, just nothing to be wowed by. I'd have assumed Pellington shot the film too but that wasn't the case, and the opening sequences of MacLaine is various shots of light, contrast and framing looked nice. Once the film got out and explored places like the radio station or marketing agency where she worked, things get a little shaky imagewise, with whites running a little hot and flesh tones wavering a little bit. Color reproduction is somewhat inconsistent as well. One would hope for more from Universal on this but oh well.The Sound:
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless surround befitting the movie is fine, though it does give a chance to show off some pretty good music over the course of its runtime. Dialogue is well-balanced and consistent through the film, thought doesn't get a lot to do past that to show off any sense of dynamic range. It was decent, nothing world-shattering or anything given the source.Extras:
Nothing here, nary a behind the scenes piece, trailer, commentary, etc.Final Thoughts:
Some road films where one of the protagonists deals with mortality are good and others are less so, but this rut lately of well-established, damned iconic actors tackling these stories in lackluster fashion is becoming a trend. Guys, you can rest on your laurels, it's not a big deal! The disc could use some improvement technically, and the lack of extras only contributes to the production's presumed general malaise. I'd perhaps skip this one even if you were the hardest core fan of anyone who appeared in this.