Thursday, March 9, 2017

No fresh message in 'The Last Word'

At one point in The Last Word, the camera lingers on a wall of photographs showing Shirley MacLaine at various stages of her life, one of them reminiscent of the impish look MacLaine brought to Billy Wilder's The Apartment. The photos are supposed to be images of from the life of the character MacLaine's playing, but the moment offers an opportunity to reflect on a career that's worthy of celebration. I can't think of anything else I'd want to celebrate about The Last Word, a sentimental comedy about an embittered older woman (MacLaine) who enlists a young newspaper reporter (Amanda Seyfried) to write her obituary. MacLaine's Harriet wants to maintain control of her image, even in death. When a cranky older woman meets a plucky younger woman, it's a safe bet that formula will prevail. By the end, the older woman will have become lovable, and the younger woman will have taken a step toward maturity. Director Mark Pellington can't conceal the movie's many contrivances. The worst of these involves Harriet's decision to soften her image by mentoring a young black girl from the projects (AnnJewel Lee Dixon). Harriet thinks such a relationship will look good in her obituary. Mentor or not, Harriet never shows any interest in understanding the girl's environment, and Dixon is saddled with dialogue that goes heavy on unbecoming F-bombs. In scene-after-scene, Pellington struggles to make us chuckle as he wends his way toward the mush-pit of sentiment that constitutes the movie's finale. It's a bit sad to see MacLaine trying to breathe life into low-grade material that has about as much interest in the realities of aging as Paul Ryan has in lobbying for a statue of Karl Marx on the National Mall.

No comments: