Movie Review: "The Last Word"
John Thomas, Movie Critic
"You don’t make mistakes, mistakes make you,” proclaims Harriet Lauler (Shirley MacLaine). This is only one of her many declarations made to anyone and everyone within her reach; the gardener, housekeeper, hairdresser and even her physician.
She is a retired, successful, wealthy business woman but not successful at being retired. The lengths she goes to be acknowledged or to have something to do range from harassing her staff to faking a drug-alcohol overdose that lands her in the hospital.
Her physician, recognizing the signs of a domineering bored woman, informs her that he doesn’t care what she thinks, her condition is what it is.
Contemplating another bout with pills and red wine, she accidentally knocks over the glass of wine. Using the newspaper she was reading to mop up the wine, she notices the obituary column on the top page. At her advanced age, she recognizes three of the deceased. Reading the overly flattering words she feels they are lies; she knows that one of them was a horrible drunk, the other a crook and the third had syphilis.
Without much else on her agenda, she begins to contemplate her own obituary and decides to have it prepared before her death so she can adjust or correct any discrepancies.
Anne Sherman (Amanda Seyfried) had written the other obituaries so it is to her Harriet heads. Having been given a long list of Harriet’s friends, family and colleagues, Anne reluctantly agrees to prepare the document. Naturally the first draft is unacceptable because no one on the list has anything good to say about Harriet; so the two sit down to decide on four key points to include in the new draft.
Point one: to be loved by family; two: to be admired by coworkers; three: to change someone’s life; and four: “the wild card.” Harriet balks at number three, Change someone’s life. What am I supposed to do, go out and save some at-risk, minority child? she wonders. And what is the wild card?
Soon she and Anne are marching into a school for at-risk children. Moments later Harriet is surrounded by a group of children captivated by the story she is telling of her being at risk also. She was an educated woman, who was head of a big business when few other women were. No man wanted to marry an educated, successful business woman at the time.
Why did she put herself at risk for leading a normal life? Because she was determined to fulfill her dreams and reach her goals.
“The wild card” is truly a wild card coming from a very unexpected place leading to gratifying moments for all those surrounding Harriet - especially for Harriet herself. To help draw this new obituary to a more successful conclusion, Anne feels the need for Harriet to confront her past, including face-to-face meetings with her divorced husband, someone from her former advertising agency and her estranged daughter.
Mark Wellington (director) has combined a meaningful story with a gifted actor, Ms. MacLaine, to create a captivating film. In the words of Harriet: “Don’t have a nice day, have a day that matters, one that means something.”