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The Sense of an Ending

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

The Sense of an Ending

Audiences for The Sense of an Ending are likely to be older people who can grasp the emotional wallop of an old man exploring his past. Young people with just a blink of a past are thinking about present and future, not about the ups and downs that formed them. What we have here is an upper middle-aged man digging hard to understand a major sadness in his early life. Prepare to be confused as you follow a slew of actors from school years through life to early old age. They give us six characters at different ages in shifting times. It’s worth the effort.

Tony Webster (Jim Broadbent/Billy Howie) is the proprietor of a small camera store that sells old Leicas. Divorced, he is alone most of the time. Tony has learned of the death of his closest school friend and is searching for the diary he now knows Adrian (Joe Alwyn) left behind when he died. When he learns it is in the hands of his old love Veronica (Charlotte Rampling/Freya Mavor), Tony sets out to see her again to claim the diary and reconstruct his past.

That’s a simplistic summary of a complicated story. Though there are approximately five main characters, they are played at different ages by different actors. So jump to ten actors, old and young, who appear, vanish, and reappear without help from the filmmakers in identifying who is who. It gets easier the more we hear their names, harder when Jim’s comments switch from reality to memory. And that is the last negative thing you will hear from me about this otherwise appealing movie.

As Jim summons his memories, listen closely for what his personality and time have done to his past. We watch Jim and his ex-wife Margaret (Harriet Walter) reunite to help guide their daughter Susie (Michelle Dockery) through single mother childbirth. We watch him as a young man lose young Veronica (Freya Mavor), the love of his life, to his best friend Adrian.

As Jim finds each of the women who played major roles in his earlier life, he must test his own memory against theirs, and we in the audience have the job of sorting the true facts of the mystery he has constructed in his head.

What’s important to know is that every one of these actors gives a fine, often subtle performance. Add to that the impact of Jim Broadbent and Charlotte Rampling as long ago lovers who meet in much older age and you will see an amazing mixture of restraint, resentment, and love tamped down. These two can deliver moods that are both subtle and overpowering in the same moment. Their brief time onscreen together is a gift of quiet talent.

While the young actors deliver the remembered moments, their elder selves give us those memories wrapped in the reflections of many decades. Quite suddenly, we in the audience realize we are doing the same.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : The Sense of an Ending
Word Count : 495
Running time: 1:48
Rating : PG-13
Date : March 26, 2017

 

This review was posted on March 25, 2017, in Drama.

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.