Movie Review: The Last Word

Shirley MacLaine is a plucky and fiery actor, who tends to play the sort of obnoxious and willful characters you love to hate. She’s led an illustrious film career with several Oscar nominations and a Best Actress win for Terms of Endearment. MacLaine’s mother enrolled her for ballet at the age of 3 in a bid to correct her weak ankles. One of the tallest in her class and not having enough boys, she often played the male roles. Her talents extended to baseball where she was known as “Powerhouse” attributed with the most home runs for an all-boys team. From New Age reincarnation to UFOs, MacLaine has channeled much of her attention-seeking eccentricity into her bolshie performances. While her name carries considerable weight, she’s one of those stars who can swing a film one way or another.

The Last Word hinges on a Bucket List style concept and allows 83 year old MacLaine the opportunity to leverage aspects from her own life. Playing a shrewd media mogul businesswoman many years into her retirement, she comes to realise she’s made more enemies than friends during the course of her focused career. The prospect of leaving the world for good brings her to question her legacy and it’s not long before she’s commissioned a young journalist from one of her old papers to write her a rose-coloured obituary.

MacLaine is full of moxie and her bullish star power is generally entertaining enough to get by on its own, sometimes to the detriment of her co-stars. In The Last Word, she’s playing opposite Amanda Seyfried with a supporting performance from AnnJewel Lee Dixon. Unfortunately, no amount of friction seems to make up for the lack of chemistry between the co-leads. It’s like they’re performing from opposites sides of the glass in a prison visitors room. MacLaine and Seyfried are proven talents and it’s not for their lack of trying – suffering through dialogue and scenes that seem flat-footed and forced. It’s the sort of lacklustre production where you’re unsure whether the choice to limit Seyfried’s make up was intentional.

 “I did it my way. Deal with it!”

While the premise is filled with promise, the performances are stunted  and while The Last Word tries to rally indie spirit, it’s all rather underwhelming. Director Mark Pellington isn’t able to inject enough vitality into this production, expecting the actors to pick up the slack. Much like the comedy drama Grandma, it’s got a prickly edge, leveraging an unlikely grandmother-granddaughter dynamic for comedic effect. While much lighter in tone, it operates with a similar verve, using a strong lead to counterbalance a cheeky wallflower in bloom. Sadly, it’s just not funny enough, evidenced by the only genuine laughs coming from the return of a small supporting character. The dull fun is exacerbated even further by the production’s shaggy and washed out look.

While things get better in the third act as a Little Miss Sunshine style road trip ensues, it’s too little too late. There are enough glimmers of hope to keep hoping The Last Word improves, and it does, but the overall journey isn’t remarkable or memorable. It’s better for the presence of MacLaine and Seyfried, even if they’re not in the best form, but this comedy drama is contrived, lazy and subpar… making you wish you were watching something else. If you love MacLaine, you’ll probably be more forgiving of this cranky and clunky Sunday afternoon comedy drama, which pales in comparison with The Bucket List, Grandma and Little Miss Sunshine.

The bottom line: Clunky