The Last Word is a comedy that tries to tackle the often-debated issue of mortality and fear of being forgotten, but fails to achieve much until the end. Harriet Lauler (Shirley MacLaine) is a rich retired advertising executive, a control freak by definition, who is dissatisfied with everyone’s abilities (including her gynecologist) and, in consequence, ends up doing their job for them. While reading the newspaper’s obituary, after almost killing herself with meds and wine, the woman realises that her behaviour will be reflected in the way she is going to be portrayed in the piece that will be written after her death. She immediately decides to contact the writer of the obituary, Anne (Amanda Seyfried), a twenty-something woman who initially refuses Harriet’s demands. Eventually, she is convinced to contact a list of people from Harriet’s life in order to get notes of the qualities and achievements that she could high-light in the newspaper when the time comes. Unsurprisingly, almost everyone on the list, including a priest who just says multiple times “I hate her”, cannot seem to be able to find even one positive trait, a small exception being her ex-husband. Therefore, the first draft that Anne writes ends up being totally unsatisfying, and Harriet decides to do some research herself in order to determine what she needs to change in order to get the obituary she wants. After intense studying she reaches the conclusion that 1) the person needs to be loved by their family, 2) have been admired by co-workers, 3) have touched someone in a way, and 4) they had a wildcard attainment. This triggers a series of events that eventually bring the two women closer (but only after several clashes of course) and makes the film end on a very predictable and not quite satisfying note.
The two leads, however, manage to their job as well as they can in The Last Word, considering the plot line. Shirley MacLaine, now 83, a 6-time Academy nominee and with an enormous filmography behind her playing in Oscar nominated and winning movies such as The Turning Point (Herbert Ross, 1977) or Terms of Endearment (James L. Brooks, 1983), plays quite a stereotypical character as Harriet, an authoritative business woman that couldn’t manage to have both a career and a family life. As expected, she is difficult to get along with at the beginning, but ends up proving that there is something behind the hard shell. Amanda Seyfried’s character is not very original either, Anna being a talented writer stuck in an unsatisfying job with no real desire of changing anything in her life until Harriet becomes part of it. Her only purpose seems to be to serve as a support for Harriet’s journey, but doesn’t get too much of a character development herself as the audience does not seem to find out too much about her and her feelings and desires.
This dramatic comedy struggles to keep the audience engaged until the end, the character development and finale leaving the viewer thinking, like Harriet, that they probably could’ve done a better job themselves.
★★ and a half.