The Last Word
Shirley MacLaine’s well-deserved reputation as a salty, snappy grand dame—forged from later-career work like Terms of Endearment, Steel Magnolias, Postcards from the Edge, Bernie, etc.—unfortunately precedes her in this sloppy, saccharine drama costarring Amanda Seyfried.
Directed blandly by Mark Pellington (who made his name in music videos and horror flicks like The Mothman Prophesies), The Last Word is sort of an inverse Citizen Kane (in many more ways than one), following a newspaper reporter (Seyfried) who’s hired by an old rich woman named Harriet (MacLaine) to piece together her obituary. The reporter is exasperated by trying to find anyone who will say something nice—everyone hates her, you see—but the script by Stuart Ross Fink is woefully safe in portraying Harriet as a movie version of mean person. She was tough on people, of course, but not because of greed or white privilege or neediness or crushing insecurity. It was because of her integrity and high standards. “Harriet, you’re a piece of work!” Seyfried exclaims in one scene. “You’re life is so interesting!” she crows in another.
Actually, it’s not. MacLaine, at 82, still knows how to throw a sideways glance and deliver a cutting remark with élan, but she’s shoehorned into playing a character that’s not just a tenth as dimensional and complex than Aurora Greenway (from Terms) or Doris Mann (from Postcards). Harriet’s also a disposable bore next to MacLaine herself. C