Whilst some actors bemoan the lack of parts because of age, it seems 83-year old Shirley MacLaine has no such problems. She has four films due out in the next two years, including this one, The Last Word.
MacLaine plays Harriet, the former owner of a successful marketing agency who is now an old control freak with few friends and less family.
She is so controlling that she decides, after an unsuccessful attempt to take her own life, to get the local obituary writer Anne, Amanda Seyfried (Mamma Mia!, Les Miserables), to write her obituary now, whilst she’s still alive.
Anne tries her best but finds that, despite Harriet providing a hundred names for her to speak to, not one of them has a pleasant thing to say about her. Harriet isn’t happy about this and sets to work living the remaining part of her life in such a way that Anne can write the best obituary possible.
This includes dragging Anne into every harebrained scheme she can come up, one of which sees her mentoring a young, underprivileged black girl (though not disabled as she had hoped for) Brenda, AnnJewel Lee Dixon (debut role).
The Last Word is from the pen of debut writer Stuart Ross Fink with Mark Pellington (Arlington Road, The Mothman Prophecies) behind the camera.
What Fink has given us is absolutely brilliant. It’s darkly funny, it has a wonderful and poignant message and, even though you know what’s coming, it’s also very sad.
Pellington directs with aplomb and the performances from all three of our main cast, but in particular MacLaine and newcomer Dixon, are stand-out.
That’s not to say Seyfried is bad, far from it, but MacLaine is mesmerising to watch as this seemingly cantankerous old woman who, really, just knows what she wants and won’t settle for anything less than perfection.
The story sees Harriet become a radio DJ with Brenda as assistant. The trio head on a road trip to see her estranged daughter, Anne Heche (Donnie Brasco, Wag the Dog), who, it turns out, is just like her mother, although she puts that down to being diagnosed with obsessive, compulsive, personality disorder, whereas Harriet puts it down to her just, being her.
Anne meanwhile wants to be a writer or more than obituaries but fears making mistakes. It takes Harriet and her ways to show her that’s what you have to do. Fail hard.
MacLaine very quickly establishes herself as this woman that you want to hate, yet you wonder what’s happened to her to make her this way. She cuts her own her at the salon, with the hairdresser watching on, and even performs her own gynaecology exams, yet is always right.
How Fink takes us on this journey, discovering her past at the same time as Anne, whilst softening her, but not too much, is glorious to watch.
I loved this film, I really did, it spoke volumes to me and I make no apologies for extolling its virtues, just as Harriet wouldn’t.
The Last Word is released in UK cinemas on the 7th July.