Saturday, January 28, 2017

Sundance with Abe: The Last Word

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the fourth time. I’ll be seeing as many movies as I can and offering reviews throughout the week.

The Last Word
Directed by Mark Pellington

Most people want to go out on their own terms. There are those who ask not to be hooked up to any machines or to remain alive only if they are mentally aware of where they are and what is going on. How they are perceived by others - their legacy - can be important, but it doesn't usually come first. Obviously, priorities are different for someone who commissions the writing of her obituary while she's still alive.

Harriet Lauler (Shirley MacLaine) is not a particularly nice person. She would pride herself on not meeting that description because she values other qualities, like drive, persistence, and sensibility. Realizing that her days might be numbered, the former businesswoman co-opts Anne (Amanda Seyfried), an obituary writer for the local paper, to interview everyone she knows to craft a fitting tribute. It proves to be a difficult task, as no one has anything remotely positive to say about Harriet, prompting her to try to turn over a new leaf and reshape her impact on the world near the end of her life.

MacLaine is a respected, Oscar-winning actress who has been making films for over sixty years. This is exactly the kind of part that would go to a woman of her age who is still acting regularly, and it is so wonderfully refreshing to see that, unlike a number of her colleagues, there is absolutely nothing phoned-in about her performance. Every line lands, and her delivery is spectacular, enhancing an already funny script. Her pairing with Seyfried is a true success, since Anne does not give in to the fear that Harriet uses to intimidate most in her life and instead gives her plenty of attitude, making for some great interactions.

There are some elements of the trajectory of the story in “The Last Word” that are predictable and follow an expected course based on the prototype of this kind of last-hurrah movie. Yet the way it is crafted and structured allows it to work very well, and this trip is full of laughs throughout thanks to the smart performances from MacLaine, Seyfried, and newcomer AnnJewel Lee Dixon as an underprivileged girl Harriet decides to mentor to bolster her reputation. This is an occasionally heartwarming, more often hilarious comedy that is sure to please audiences looking for an above-average comedy with a great cast.


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