It’s likely to happen sooner rather than later, but eventually watching The Last Word, you’ll want to scream out at the matron of the film: just die already. The end can’t come soon enough.
She’s quite insufferable. Harriet Lauler (Shirley MacLaine) is nearing the end of her days, she suspects, and wants to ensure she can do the thing in death that she has constantly done in life. That’s of course, have the last say in every discussion. Her monomaniacal mission is to commission her own obituary and approve of before she dies, so that everyone knows how wonderful and great she is. Even though she is a successful and privileged curmudgeon that is rude, ungrateful, and lonely.
This being a piece of middlebrow feel-goodness, The Last Word finds not only Harriet warming her cold, dead heart over time, but also having a positive impact on others in the silliest, most contrived ways possible. I suppose it’s not exactly that you want Harriet to die, it’s just that you know that when she passes, the movie should be close to over.
But in the meantime, she enlists 20-something Anne (Amanda Seyfried), an obit writer for a local newspaper that Harriet used to endow. And because everything is simple in this safe, uninspired world, Anne’s problem according to Harriet and the filmmakers is that just because she has inexplicably found a steady job in journalism, she hasn’t a man in her life, never traveled, and wants to do more with her writing, and thus is totally unfulfilled.
These two go on would-be quirky adventures together, trying to procure positive feedback from Harriet’s contemporaries, and of course their initially testy relationship becomes a stronger connection because apparently Harriet isn’t a complete hag. Completing this squad is a young, ‘at-risk’ black girl, taken to so that Harriet looks charitable and influential, but like Anne, she eventually proves her worth. Everyone can learn from everyone else, and friendship transcends race and age. Huzzah!
That is to say, everything in The Last Word has an artificial, treacle side to it so as to not provoke, unnerve, or challenge. While MacLaine almost makes Lauler likeable, and Seyfried’s poorly written character is better off because of her, it’s all still nice and frivolous, a piece of storytelling that isn’t grounded in any reality and offers fortune cookie wisdom and conventional conversations about life and love. And at one hour and fifty minutes, it’s a long dialogue to get to that coveted, titular moment.