The Last Word is a story about an Harriet (Shirley MacLaine) who is an aging control-freak who bullies her local newspaper into forcing their obituary writer Anne (Amanda Seyfried) to write Harriet’s obit before she dies so that Harriet can ensure that it’s done right. Harriet discovers, in her eighties mind you, that her life doesn’t exactly make for a compelling obit and sets out to change that, with Anne in tow. Hilarity doesn’t exactly ensue. It’s actually kinda of sad to see Harriet desperately trying to construct a life worth memorializing. And of course Anne starts to realize the same thing, that in her own way, her life also isn’t worth memorializing.
If there’s a point to the movie, I guess it’s that curmudgeons are people too. When you understand their back story, when you see the path they’ve travelled and the circumstances of their past, you tend to become a lot more sympathetic with them. You might even come to respect them.
The plot unfolds entirely predictably. You could set a metronome to its beats. But sometimes you don’t watch a movie to surprise you with plot twists or new insights into the world. Sometimes you watch a movie to reassure you and confirm your basic beliefs. The Last Word falls into that category. As you watch it unfold, as you see the stereotypes peel away to reveal real people, the movie becomes more and more satisfying. There are one or two scenes that cross the line into saccharine sappiness. But mostly it stays grounded in reality just enough to be believable.
The movie is really all about Shirley MacLaine playing the aging curmudgeon and she does it well. Amanda Seyfried is good as the character foil, playing the young woman full of fears and insecurities about her place in life.
The Last Word is a feel-good movie for the aging, control-freak, curmudgeons out there and all those that see themselves heading in that direction.