Harriet Lauler (Shirley MacLaine) is a wild card, and collating the truth about her life amid conflicting evidence makes for an engaging plot. A delight-filled and thought-provoking drama, The Last Word poignantly tackles the pains and struggles of one woman denying her obsessive compulsiveness, forging a career in the 1950s as a female business partner and maintaining her role as mother and wife. The story unfolds with a quite surprising turn of events, as she regains her sense of worth, discovering new relationships while giving newfound hope to others.
At 83, MacLaine’s experience, drive and tenacity shine through in her portrayal of Harriet. Co-star Amanda Seyfried portrays Anne Sherman, a timid obituary columnist whose initial encounters with Lauler are akin to being thrown into the lion’s den. A challenging, frustrating but rewarding twist brings this movie into its own when Harriet comes into contact with a young Brenda (newcomer Ann’ Jewel Lee M Dixon), a cynical, streetwise dance fanatic and great sidekick to MacLaine. The unlikely duo's bond is tangible and helps facilitate the metamorphosis of Harriet. A memorable short dance scene shows the multi-generational sympathy that is portrayed cleverly in this movie. Audiences will no doubt recognise music from the Kinks ‘Waterloo Sunset’ in a compilation of other pieces.
The direct interview technique used in this film to develop a sense of Lauler’s character is like testimony from witnesses at a trial, and she herself responds as the story unfolds. Audiences may very well relate to the character, knowing a micro-managing community member or relative that struggles in the same way. One outstanding sequence in a radio studio booth unfolds with MacLaine sharing her lifelong wisdom and one gets the impression that she is giving of herself here, not just reciting lines.
Overall, I suspect this latest summer movie is likely to make a short debut on the large screen, overlooked and appealing to a very select audience - perhaps readers' circles; Stuart Ross Fink's very interesting screenplay would be worth reading. MacLaine fans should add this movie to their list.
A Pimms, smiles, and tea cake outing at the Phoenix Picture House with lots to think about.