Saturday, February 25, 2017

DVDebut of John Erman/David Rintels' rarely-seen 1990's TV-movie, THE LAST BEST YEAR

The recent death of television legend Mary Tyler Moore might spark renewed interest in a better-than-average TV-movie from 1990 entitled THE LAST BEST YEAR, in which Ms Moore co-stars with another fine actress, the still very much with us (see Mozart in the JungleBernadette Peters. In fact, Ms Peters gives one of her very best performances in the film, and her remarkable work alone is reason enough to seek out this little film. The story is one of a smart, pretty young woman named Jane (Peters), who holds a high-level job at a large travel agency (of the sort that existed prior to the rise of the internet) and is having a pleasant affair with a married man. Quite soon, however, she is given a medical diagnosis of terminal cancer.

We first see Jane during an assignation with her lover in London, and the movie's intelligent and economical script, written by TV veteran David W. Rintels (below) captures circumstance and character quite deftly. As directed by another television vet, John Erman (shown at right), the film bears Erman's hallmark of smart casting coupled to the ability to draw excellent, realistic performances out of entire ensembles. That is the case here, too. If it is Ms Peters who shines brightest, literally everyone in the movie glows, as well. This includes the likes of Carmen Matthews as Jane' great aunt, Dorothy McGuire
as the mother of Moore's character, Michael Hogan as the husband, Brian Bedford as Jane's medical doctor, and of course Moore herself (shown at left on poster, top, and below). Generally a reactive actress, off whom bounced the humor of the actors around her -- from Dick van Dyke to the cast of the even more famous Mary Tyler Moore Show -- here Moore plays the therapist whom Jane's medical doctor recommends to help see his patient through this very difficult time. The relationship that develops between the two women, as well as between Jane and a few of the people around her, constitutes the meat of this thoughtful, moving film.

The importance of friendship is the theme of the movie, and it is brought to life pretty damned well, with a few laughs, but mostly via involvement with Jane as a character who grows and changes, thanks to the friendship of those around her. My spouse declared the film "phony-baloney: an insult to anyone dying or living," but I couldn't disagree more.

While The Last Best Year bears the style of the TV-movie (sentimental and tear-jerking) it is done with enough skill to offset that genre stamp. It also places friendship above romantic love and/or sexuality, so in that regard it is anything but TV-movie-ish. It is full of the sort of kindness in very short supply in these Trumpish times, and for this alone, it's worth a watch. Then there is Ms Peters, whose vulnerability and sweetness has seldom been put to better use. Jane is a smart cookie -- the one scene in the travel agency involving a tour group that wants to cancel its contract makes this oh-so-clear -- but she is even more a needy one, and Peters brings you completely into her corner without ever begging for love or pushing too heavily. Jane never loses her hard-won dignity.

Another lesser-known-but-worth-discovering treat released via Olive Films, the movie -- running 96 minutes and in the old-time 1.33:1 movie and TV aspect ratio -- hit the street this past Tuesday, February 21, and is definitely worth catching up with if you've never seen it, and probably worth watching again, after all these years, if you have. The transfer, although nothing like Blu-ray quality, is still quite good. You can order your copy by clicking here. So far The Last Best Year does not seem to be available for rental via Netflix or Amazon, but perhaps that will soon change, once renewed word-of-mouth starts to build.

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