“THE LAST WORD” My rating: C+ (Opens March 24 at the Glenwood Arts, Cinemark Palace and AMC Barrywoods)
108 minutes | MPAA rating: R
Any film that sends you out to your car humming The Kinks’ “Waterloo Sunset”cannot be dismissed out of hand.
Still, an aura of uneasy familiarity clings to “The Last Word,”a dramedy that plays like a second-class “A Man Called Ove” from a female perspective.
Shirley MacLaine portrays 81-year-old Harriet, a grouchy, judgmental woman who radiates disdain for the lesser mortals around her.
Harriet is, of course, a variation on the character MacLaine has played so often (“Guarding Tess” and “Bernie,” for starters) that she could do it in her sleep.
Sensitive about both her mortality and her legacy, Harriet pulls strings to have the local newspaper’s obituary writer, Anne (Amanda Seyfried), write her death notice in advance. She even provides a list of acquaintances Anne should interview.
Problem is, not one of these individuals has anything good to say about Harriet. According to Anne, the old lady “puts the bitch in obituary.”
At this point Stuart Ross Fink’s screenplay starts turning squishy. To restore her image, and so that Anne will have something positive to put in the obit, Harriet becomes mentor to the foul-mouthed Brenda (AnnJewel Lee Dixon), an at-risk African American child who is so precocious and self-possessed that she hardly seems at risk at all.
Harriet also volunteers to work as a deejay at a local community radio station, snowing the station manager (Thomas Sadoski) with her knowledge of obscure ’60s pop and even orchestrating a romance between the fellow and obit-writer Anne.
Late in the proceedings she takes Anne and Brenda on a road trip for a long-delayed reunion with her grown daughter (Anne Heche).
None of this is in the least bit original — though it’s been carefully calculated to squeeze the tear ducts for a bathetic sendoff.
The good news is that MacLaine keeps finding new angles on what long ago became one of her stock characters.
That and the strong supporting cast assembled by director Mark Pellington (Philip Baker Hall, Tom Everett Scott, Gedde Watanabe, Sarah Baker), who find ways to make more of the material than it deserves.
| Robert W. Butler