Ornery, immotile, and cold as the plackart on a suit of armor. Shirley MacLaine leaves her comedic bookbag at home and plays the part of an affluent businesswoman whose personality has more rows of teeth than a great white shark. The Last Word relies on the juxtaposition of the celebrated and relatively transparent MacLaine playing an impermeable and unknowable force. The character in question is Harriett Lauler, a retiree who is comprised solely of magma and sarcasm. Everywhere she goes, Harriett leaves a trail of flummoxed associates and horrified acquaintances. Imagine a buzz saw in business attire. The only person who can spell this five alarm blaze is the patient, somewhat unprepared, Anne Sherman (Amanda Seyfried). An author of obituaries at the local newspaper, Anne is approached by Harriett to write a revealing snapshot of the anguished entrepreneur’s life. As you would expect, barbed zingers are volleyed back and fourth.
MacLaine burrows into the minutia of Stuart Ross Fink’s limp script, attempting to elevate poorly written dialogue with everything she has (although there’s not much you can do when you’re required to shout “all up in your business” in a suggestive lilt). It’s difficult to watch a screen legend try, aggressively, to bale water out of a poorly made lifeboat for two hours. The Last Word reveres MacLaine’s legend, but the film is also intimidated by the icon’s power. The screenplay doesn’t take risks, bite back, or propel into any sort of creative territory. The engine simple idles while the cast gives a confused parade wave. Amanda Seyfried, meanwhile, is doing her best Anna Kendrick impersonation. From concerned inflections to aggressive brow-furrowing, Seyfried looks like she’s copying the Pitch Perfect star’s batting stance, down to the tiniest of details. There’s a distinct sense that there’s little investment going on here. After 2013’s Lovelace, Seyfried has found herself shoehorned into fewer and fewer interesting roles. In The Last Word, you can practically hear her internally screaming between lines.
Between the uninspired ageist humor — “I lost my job to a 100-year-old?!” –and the strange twenty-minute subplot concerning MacLaine volunteering to look after a precocious child, there is little coherency. We’ve seen toothless screenplays with middling direction before, especially when it comes to respected actors getting roped into accessible dramas late in their careers. When Andy Griffith starred in 2009’s Play the Game, the same sort of pain vanilla script enveloped the proceedings. Here, there’s not much difference. Director Mark Pellington’s film has so many banged up parts it’s more of an aircraft boneyard than a movie.
MacLaine and Seyfriend, to different degrees, deserve better.