In the comedy The Last Word, Shirley MacLaine plays a control freak of absolutely unstoppable will. This is a person who is obsessed with getting her own way on even the most inconsequential detail. She is living a wealthy retirement, having been forced out of the company she founded when her behavior becomes too unbearable for everyone else. Facing her mortality, she decides to employ an obituary writer (Amanda Seyfried) to favorably pre-write her obit. The challenge, of course, is that no one – family members, former co-workers, anyone – has anything nice to say. This sets up an Odd Couple comedy until it becomes an Odd Trio when Harriet seeks to improve her obit profile by mentoring a disadvantaged nine-year-old (AnnJewel Lee Dixon).
Often contrived, The Last Word isn’t a masterpiece, but it has three things going for it:
- Shirley MacLaine is in full willful grandeur, and her performance is tour de force.
- Supporting players: Anne Heche is priceless in a “she is your daughter” scene. AnnJewel Lee Dixon is a force of nature herself, kind of a Shirley Mini-Me. Philip Baker Hall is a wonderful match for Maclaine. Thomas Sodoski is always appealing.
- The remarkably smart soundtrack, which almost becomes a character of its own.
I did also appreciate the brief homage to Reservoir Dogs, the slo-mo power stride with sunglasses (pictured above).
I saw The Last Word at Cinequest at a screening with director Mark Pellington, who noted that The Last Word took 25 days to film. Crediting his music supervisor for finding obscure and affordable songs, he said, “the music works on an infectious level”. Describing the scene where the three actresses take a moonlit dip in a pond, he said, “I love that their laugh deflates the symbolism of it”. His favorite scene was the obne when Philip Baker Hall tells Shirley MacLaine, “I knew what I was getting when I married you”, which inspired Pellington’s next movie Nostalgia (now in post-production).