The Last Word, C
Rated R, 108 minutes
The last word on the charming but unoriginal new dramedy "The Last Word" is that it could've been much braver, in spite of an appealing turn from one of cinema's best actresses.
Harriet Lauler (Oscar-winner Shirley MacLaine), a once-successful businesswoman, works with young local writer Anne Sherman ("Les Miserables'" Amanda Seyfried) to pen her life story. When the initial result doesn't meet Lauler's high expectations, she sets out to reshape the way she'll be remembered, dragging Anne along as an unwilling accomplice. As their journey unfolds, the two women develop a strong bond which not only alters Harriet's legacy but also Anne's future.
"The Last Word" is directed and produced by Mark Pellington ("Henry Poole is Here") with the screenplay by Stuart Ross Fink, and is essentially a less endearing, revisionist "Terms of Endearment," with MacLaine reprising her Aurora Greenway as a cranky, perfectionist bitty who wants people to remember her in the right way. The film is very fortunate to have MacLaine, who's the most memorable here, getting in the best lines and stealing scenes with such frequency you'd think it was a one-woman show, which given the stale, predictable storytelling, it might as well as be.
You could probably determine what will happen just from its trailer: MacLaine, on her last legs, is paired with an obituary writer (Seyfried, who tends to cower in MacLaine's presence) and the two form an unlikely friendship and grow to love each other before death comes knocking at Harriet's door faster than you can say Debra Winger.
It doesn't help that the already silly, contrived story takes a slightly racist turn when she wants to mentor a young, precocious African-American girl (an uneven, especially as Harriet encourages the girl to behave and not cuss, but in other scenes is drunk and cussing up a storm), and an exceedingly sentimental one in the last act as she makes amends with her grown daughter (Anne Heche, or is that Renee Zellweger?) and waltzes in a radio station and instantly becomes a DJ.
It's also a bit anti-climactic when Seyfried's character finally writes the obituary, gets up to read it, and it's pretty paltry, to say the least. MacLaine's Harriet would've snatched from her hand, ripped it up and told her to start over. The same thing could be said for the paltry, trite "The Last Word," and while MacLaine is good, she deserves better than this.