Shirley MacLaine, at 82 and in whatever reincarnation she is in, is the only reason for seeing “The Last Word,” a heavily contrived film written by Stuart Ross Fink and directed by Mark Pellington. MacLaine dominates the screen throughout as Harriet Lauler, who has a nasty temperament, has made a host of enemies and has a crisis in realizing she won’t be remembered kindly when she dies.
Harriet has a plan. Over the years she has been a benefactor to a local newspaper, and given her connection there, she enlists an obituary writer, Amanda Seyfried as Anne Sherman, to write her advance death notice. This is quite a task. How can Anne find somebody to say something nice about Harriet? It’s like the joke about a funeral at which nobody would speak about the deceased, who was thoroughly disliked. Finally, someone gets up and says, “His brother was worse.”
In Harriet’s case, she figures out a way to help the besieged writer. Harriet decides that she will find a social cause to work on and befriends Brenda (AnnJewel Lee Dixon) a problematical young African-American girl who needs assistance and straightening out. That gambit accounts for a good part of the plot.
Of course, along the way we learn something about the nicer side of Harriet and the trajectory of her life. The film gets soppy. But there is one steady ingredient, the acting of MacLaine, still an impressive pro after her long career. A Bleecker Street release. Reviewed March 3, 2017.