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The Last Word

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

The Last Word

Shirley MacLaine has used all her natural ingredients to enliven The Last Word – a movie that wouldn’t make it without her. Known in real life for her belief in reincarnation, MacLaine must have enjoyed this chance to evolve from control freak to thoughtful mentor of others. Is it for you? Take a look.

At 82, Harriet Lauler (MacLaine) lives in luxury but hates the fake praise that infects so many obituaries. She induces obit writer Anne (Amanda Seyfried) to write hers – not after she dies, but now when she can control its content. As Anne begins her research, she discovers that Harriet was disliked by everyone she suggested as a source.

As Harriet begins to grasp her public reputation, she decides to fix things by changing herself. She engages Anne as her teammate and Brenda (Ann Jewel Lee Dixon) a tiny, foul mouthed bombshell of a little girl as the protégé she will mentor. Working with these two, she sets out to memorialize herself through new achievements.

At some point in the process the whole thing begins to feel disjointed. Writer? Director? Subject? All of those but with Maclaine as the self-rehabilitating control nut, the audience seems happy. Amanda Seyfried works hard as Maclaine’s new friend and final rehabilitation candidate, but her scripted part is repetitive and quite dull. The talented Seyfried is set adrift too often. Little Ann Jewel Lee Dixon makes us smile as she uses any musical excuse to dance and any verbal challenge to spew forth foul language.

The first scenes are the perfect introduction to what lies ahead. Actual pictures of Shirley MacLaine from earliest years through her career to the present are a quick summary of her life. Those shots lead to MacLaine as the fictional Harriet wandering through her luxurious house and finally reading the stuffy obituaries that will lead her to ask Anne to write her obituary while she’s alive so she herself can edit it. How can this happen when everyone Anne talks to dislikes Harriet? The control freak decides on reinvention – of herself.

In fine Shirley MacLaine fashion, Harriet unearths her record collection from many decades and uses it as a turning point in a life that is no longer lonely. Can she turn this last decade into what it should have done all along? Can she right some of her past wrongs? Can she chuck her “unyielding belief that everyone else is the problem?”

She may be creating her own obituary but in doing that she is also building on the lessons she has learned over eight decades. She is no longer waiting to die as she was in the early scenes. She has become an accomplished old woman with a purpose who doesn’t think about death. Labored as much of the movie is, you will probably be happy if you are a Shirley MacLaine fan. She manages to keep it all a small notch above sentimentality.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : The Last Word
Word Count : 497
Running time: 1:48
Rating : R
Date : March 19, 2017

 

 

This review was posted on March 18, 2017, in Comedy, Drama.

Paterson

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

Paterson

Let the mood of Paterson roll gently over you. We are taken out of the spinning culture of our lives and dropped into the quiet world of Paterson, driver of bus #23 in Paterson, NJ. By movie’s end we sit in stillness thinking about the man we have been watching and that alone is a tribute to the movie.

How does writer/director Jim Jarmusch create Paterson’s world? As he focuses on one week in the bus driver’s life, we learn that this quiet man wakes up each morning at 6:15 while lying peacefully in bed with his sleeping wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani). Her sleepy smile says both good morning and good-bye to the man she obviously loves.

Then it’s downstairs to a bowl of Cheerios where Paterson’s attention is caught by a box of matches that becomes fodder for the poem he will write in his head as he drives that day. He listens to the chatter of his passengers, acknowledges a fellow bus driver with a toot of his horn, returns to the bus station, and walks home. When he walks his dog after dinner, he stops at a bar for just one beer and a little conversation, his only connection to the outside world. He is a man of silent habit.

Meanwhile, Laura is at home turning their small house into a canvas of black and white abstractions. Throughout her day she paints the floors, walls, curtains, rugs – everything – including all her clothes in bi-colored angles and swirls. Her art is as demanding of attention as Patterson’s is private.

The two are together in the evening and share the small details she brings up to draw him in. When Laura says she had a dream about having twins, Paterson’s first thought is, “one for each of us.” When he starts noticing twins on his drives, we know they are going into his poetry – one for him, one for her. And that’s their chemistry. In two lives free of bedeviling distractions, they pursue their separate artistic passions. While Laura sees everything in terms of black and white design, Paterson sees everything around him in terms of his poetry.

In answer to writer/director Jarmusch, actor Adam Driver has created a man whose poems emerge from the details he absorbs on his bus drives. When he returns home to the woman he loves, he makes no comment on the extraordinary geometry she has made of their house. That’s hers, not his. And that’s their way.

In Adam Driver, Jim Jarmusch found the perfect messenger for the character and atmosphere he had imagined. We watch a silent bus driver isolated in creative design as he absorbs the smallest details of life around him. At the end of the day, he remains quiet even in the chaos of Laura’s abstractions. Director Jarmusch’s hopes are beautifully realized in Paterson the poet, and we reenter the outside world knowing we have seen something that was dear to its writer/director.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Paterson
Word Count : 500
Running time: 1:58
Rating : R
Date : February 12, 2017