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