Shirley MacLaine is the brightest star in this sweat-and-sour comedy/drama, and without her it would not have been half as much fun. With her gritty and edgy attitude towards life and acting, character Harriet Lauler and actress Shirley MacLaine move forward an unusual story of an old woman who almost passes away following a very silly domestic incident and whose only intention is to leave the world with a better legacy than the one she had made during her life.
Her master plan of directing her own obituary brings her in touch with local journalist Anne Sherman (Amanda Seyfried), who is in charge of finding enough material to prove everyone wrong and demonstrate that Harriet is actually a good person. As we move into the plot, in fact, director Mark Pellington does his best to make of Harriet a hateful character. One of the few problems with this film, however, is that he fails completely.
MacLaine is a too good an actress and all the scenes when she’s alone in her house, really show (rather than tell) multiple shades of her inner feelings. From the nitpicking essence that she embraces in the maintenance of her home, to the ruthless tone with which she addresses anyone. During the film, however, we follow Harriet in a sort of coming-of-age / bildungsroman story as she matures and finally ejects all the bad behaviours she had developed through the years. She is engaged in many humanitarian activities like taking care of less fortunate children. One of them, Brenda (AnnJewel Lee Dixon) becomes the third in the threesome of characters the audience follows as the plot unravels.
The Last Word is a story that works on the idea of building up many promises but that fails in delivering them all. It’s definitely enjoyable to follow Harriet is her oath of redemption but the general feeling is one of an unbalanced story. Seyfried is overused as a character and I feel the screenwriter Stuart Ross Fink would have definitely made a better job if the whole focus of the story was fully on MacLaine’s character and her storyline. She is definitely able to sustain a movie by herself and that wasn’t exploited at all, creating confusing and unappealing subplot lines.
Photography and directing choices do their job delivering a decent performance and towards the end, the atmosphere gets a little emotional and philosophical about life and our ability as human beings to actually leave some sort of legacy in the hearts of our beloved. Nonetheless, this peak happens way too late in the movie to make it a memorable watch rather than just a nice film.