One of the most touching moments to come out of this year's Oscars involved a new segment in which noteworthy actors from past and present shed light on the people and performances that inspired them. Seth Rogen paid respects to fellow Canadian Michael J. Fox and Javier Bardem spoke glowingly about Meryl Streep, but it was Charlize Theron candidly discussing the first time she saw Shirley MacLaine's pioneering portrayal of Fran Kubelik in Oscar-winner The Apartment that truly stood out.
Talk about perfect timing: The award-winning 82-year-old actor is back in the spotlight with The Last Word, a Sundance-selected dramedy about life and legacy that seems tailor-made for the feminist icon.
MacLaine plays Harriet, a senior who, after accidentally winding up in a hospital, wakes up one day to realize she has no family, no friends and nothing of personal worth to leave behind (she does, however, have a sizable estate and finances from years of working as the head of an advertising agency).
Looking to leave a better lasting impression on the world, she hires a young writer named Anne (Amanda Seyfried), who works the obituary beat at a local newspaper to write her obit before she passes away. What Anne finds isn't all that pleasant (no one, from her ex-husband to former friends and employees, speaks highly of her), so Harriet enlists her help in reshaping her life, making it look more meaningful and memorable (at least in print). That includes developing a hobby (DJing at a local independent radio station), giving guidance to a young girl from the wrong side of town (actress-to-keep-an-eye-on AnnJewel Lee Dixon) and reconnecting with her estranged daughter (Anne Heche).
On its surface, The Last Word seems like a perfect fit for the people over at Lifetime, and there are definitely some moments in first-time screenwriter Stuart Ross Fink's script that feel forced — especially in the film's final acts. (Harriet hires a tow truck driver to rip her initial off the headquarters of the company she once ran in a scene that's less than satisfying, and the romantic relationship Anne ends up developing with a local disc jockey feels trite, considering the movie's otherwise empowering narrative).
But the story, with its musings on marriage, careers and kids, has a universal charm to it, and is told with conviction by its lead, who reminds viewers why she's a force to be reckoned with and why life is worth living — especially on your own terms. (Elevation Pictures)