She was nominated for the Oscar several times, but she won’t win until she did “Terms of Endearment” in 1983. She remains very active up to now, recently appearing in the hit British series, “Downton Abbey”, and last year’s film, “Wild Oats” with Jessica Lange and Demi Moore. She’s turning 83 years old on April 24 and remains to be a working actress.
She now has a new movie, “The Last Word”, that opens in local theaters this Wednesday. In the story, she plays a rich lonely old woman, Harriet Lauler, who’s always been in control of her life. She’s the successful head of an advertising company but now lives all alone in her huge house and is obviously very sad, even having small clashes with her gardener (Gedde Watanabe) and cook (Yvette Freeman). One night, she takes some pills with wine and ends up in a hospital, where she has an argument even with her own doctor.
While trying to take her life again with more pills and wine, she knocks the wine glass over and it spills on a local newspaper on her table. She notices the obituary page and off she goes to the publishing office of the said local paper whose publication she has helped many times before. She meets the obit writer, Anne Sherman (Amanda Seyfried), and she asks her to write her obituary as she doesn’t want to leave her own obit to chance. As the title says, she wants to have The Last Word.
Anne then interviews the people who know her, including her ex-husband (Phillip Baker Hall), her
hairdresser, her OB-Gyne and her priest. Alas none of them has anything good to say about her! Anne tells this to Harriet and they start on the wrong foot, but you know that in this very special journey of a cynical old woman and an inexperienced young one, it’s inevitable for them to eventually accept, and even like, each other.
The three girls even take a road trip where they bond over fastfood from a popular food chain on their way for Harriet to patch things up with her estranged daughter (Anne Heche), who confesses she has obsessive-compulsive disorder like her mom but she’s now a happily married neurosurgeon with two kids.
No doubt mainstream viewers will find the film quite inspirational as it’s about rebuilding the bridges you’ve burned before. It’s about leaving a significant legacy before we say goodbye to this world and how we wish people would regard us after we’ve gone to the great beyond.
As Harriet tells Anne, a good obituary has four important points: that you are loved by family and friends, admired by the people you work with, have touched someone’s life, and you have a wild card about some unique skill or experience. Something like a bucket list, right?
Shirley MacLaine dominates the movie and gives a stellar performance as the old curmudgeon with her acerbic wit and endless criticisms that are actually meant to make people seek self improvement. She’s delightful to watch but she has done this kind of role before in “Guarding Tess” with Nicolas Cage. But at least, Director Mark Pellington allows MacLaine to dig deep into her own persona and interpret the role by investing it with her own passion, drive and sense of vulnerability.
The film is a perfect mix of comedy and poignancy, without straining for mushy or sentimental emotional effects that make it all the more touching. Seyfried and Dixon understandably both play second bananas who just support Shirley, but competently so, even in the scenes where they get to swim in a lake in the moonlight and dance happily with hip hop music. In the end, despite the tearful ending, this is still a feel good movie that celebrates life and living.