Thursday, March 16, 2017

Mark Pellington's best film? THE LAST WORD might just qualify, thanks to Shirley MacLaine

If you don't already consider Shirley MacLaine to be a national treasure, entertainment-wise, you certainly will after viewing her latest film, THE LAST WORD. This creditable attempt at deepening the usual feel-good/senior-citizen movie goes places you may not expect and does so with enough intelligence and flair to make the movie a trip worth taking. In it, Ms MacLaine plays Harriet, a difficult, demanding old woman who's been forced out of the business she started and brought to huge success and is now just waiting, well, to die.

A control freak of long-standing, when she gets the idea to have her obituary written prior to her death (so she has control of that "last word," as it were), she hires the young obit writer for the local paper, Anna (played by Amanda Seyfried, below) to do the job. As directed by Mark Pellington (shown at left) and written by Stuart Ross Fink, the movie is often very funny, at times surprisingly resonant and moving, and almost always an enjoyment to view. If it doesn't reach genre greatness, it is at least willing to tackle more than what the usual feel-good film tends to offer us.

The last time TrustMovies saw Mr. Pellington's work, that was the 52-minute music video called Lone. I wasn't overly impressed, though I have enjoyed other of his films. The Last Word strikes me as perhaps the best overall work he's done in quite some time. Beautifully cast, with each performer nailing his or her role quite well, and written with enough pizzazz to keeps us interested and smiling, the movie is visually smart, as well. Note the moment that occurs during a round-up of various characters who have known Harriet, all of whom hate her guts. During the words of one particularly angry, hurtful fellow, the camera pans down just a few inches below his chin and -- suddenly and with such subtlety -- the moment becomes twice as funny.

Films like The Last Word that deal with seniors, end-of-life, and what's-it-all-about seem to need to be feel-good by their very nature. So when one comes along that's at least willing to explore a little more deeply, this is worth savoring. The movie does not turn our heroine into any kind of a saint. She stays pretty much a curmudgeon throughout, but as we learn more about her (and MacLaine, above, helps us understand how and why she's the way she is), we can appreciate Harriet and enjoy her even more.

We meet her ex-husband (a nice job by Philip Baker Hall) and eventually see her reunited with  her estranged daughter (a lovely, rich scene anchored by Anne Heche, above), and along the way, the movie raises worthwhile questions about what it takes to be a good mother, a good friend, and a real professional. And the answers aren't necessarily the easy ones. When (and how much) to control, and when to let go are explored, too. And if a couple of side plots are handled a little too easily, well, this is what blocks the movie from achieving a higher level.

Still what's there is plenty good and plenty enjoyable. In the supporting cast are a number of fine actors like Thomas Sadoski (above), Tom Everett Scott and Joel Murray. And MacLaine is a funny, nasty, total delight. There's life in the old girl -- and in the senior-citizen movie -- yet!

From Bleecker Street Media and running 108 minutes, The Last Word opens here in South Florida tomorrow, March 17, in Boca Raton at the Cinemark Palace 20, the Living Room Theaters and the Regal Shadowood 16; in Palm Beach Gardens at Cobb Theaters Downtown 16; and at the Movies of Delray.  Elsewhere? Of course. Click here and then scroll down to FIND THEATERS & TICKETS.

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