The Last Word
- Allan Hunter
- 28 June 2017
EIFF 2017: Shirley MacLaine rises above the schmaltz in this shamelessly uplifting dramedy
Shirley MacLaine seems to have been playing crusty curmudgeons with hearts of gold for the best part of three decades. The Last Word is no exception and finds her in haughty grand dame mode as Harriet Lauler, an affluent control freak businesswoman with a talent for losing friends and alienating people.
Now in her 80s and concerned about her legacy, Harriet demands that journalist Anne Sherman (Amanda Seyfried) write an advance obituary that she will be able to shape and approve. Naturally, it is the beginning of an unexpected friendship filled with life lessons and leading to the realisation that Harriet isn't such a bad old soul after all.
Directed by Mark Pellington (Arlington Road, The Mothman Prophecies), The Last Word is an entirely predictable, sentimental affair in which Harriet's redemption involves sponsoring nine-year-old urchin Brenda (AnnJewel Lee Dixon), showing the younger crowd she's still got it as a radio DJ and trying to reconcile with the daughter she hasn't seen in 20 years.
You can almost feel toes curling and resistance hardening at every cute twist in what amounts to a modern variation on Scrooge. Nothing cuts too deep, nobody bears much of a resemblance to a fully-rounded human being and no opportunity to tug at the heartstrings is missed.
And yet, MacLaine is such a complete professional that she refuses to surrender to the schmaltz. There is an energy and commitment in her performance that gives the film a jolt of life. As Harriet grabs one last chance to engage with the world, you can't help but respond to the sense of poignancy that MacLaine brings to the role. The sheer force of her presence and the skill of her performance makes you care about Harriet and give the film the benefit of the doubt. It is a rare illustration of star power in action.
Screened on Sun 25 and Tue 27 Jun as part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2017. Selected release from Fri 7 Jul.