As a woman who spent most of her career fighting to see her vision come true, even at the costs of her relationships, comes to terms with her mortality. She questions her legacy and how one girl should, and is, going to write it.
Characters & Storyline
After a long and productive life, Harriet (Shirley MacLaine) finds herself reading the obituary and wondering what people are going to write about her? She was tough as nails? She was feared but respected? Maybe that she touched someone’s life and inspired them? No. As she enlists the aide of a girl named Anne (Amanda Seyfried) to do interviews with family, so-called friends, and peers, all she gets is one negative response after another. If the person doesn’t hang up upon hearing Harriet’s name.
But, Harriet isn’t going to leave this world like that. She decides she is going to rewrite her final chapter so that it changes how she is seen. So, she decides to first get a underprivileged youth to mentor, a 9-year-old named Brenda (AnnJewel Lee Dixon), and she decides to become a radio jockey. On top of that, after being estranged for more than a decade, Harriet will learn what became of her only child, Elizabeth (Anne Heche). Someone she believes she failed as a mother.
From watching Harriet and listening to her ex-husband Ed (Philip Baker Hall) talk about her, MacLaine helps rid you of the idea that Harriet is just a stick in the mud. The type of person who wanted it her way or the highway and would slash your tires to slow you down. No, if anything, you got to remember the industry and time she grew up in. She went to college when that wasn’t a norm for women yet. She didn’t pursue being a secretary but instead having a business, one in the ad industry of all things. So, with those things combined, hell yes she had to be not only as aggressive as the men but twice as good to prove herself. Something you see spilled into her personal life. For with her needing to have such a tight and methodical control over her career and company, she did the same to her daughter. She notes, the way she treated Elizabeth was very caring. Sort of like a mother who, to keep her child warm, puts layer upon layer of blankets to tuck their child in and keep them warm. But, with how she raised her, she fears she smothered her.
When we first meet little Brenda, with her sassy attitude, vulgar mouth, and it appearing Harriet was going to be her white savior, I expected the worse. If only because this little girl was such a stereotype. However, like with Harriet, first impressions didn’t hold strong. Brenda was the type of child who needed someone to really take time and mentor her. From what it seems, and this you all have to assume, Brenda’s mom works so she doesn’t have time to properly guide a child like Brenda. Plus, with her mom being a single parent, things are even more difficult. So while Brenda is suspicious of a white woman approaching her at first, even comically asking if she is doing community service, Harriet grows on Brenda and she becomes her little sidekick. To the point that you see the child grow under her tutelage and it erases any feelings of being uneasy about their relationship.
On The Fence
While by no means a liability, it does sometimes seem that Brenda’s relationship with Harriet, and Harriet herself, sort of eclipsed the role, and arguably importance at times, Anne was supposed to play. Harriet, being the controlling person she is, naturally can’t help but try to improve the life of this young woman. This young woman who lacks confidence, initiative in her career and personal life, and while she is just as much Anne’s mentor as Brenda, there is something less awe-inspiring with Anne. Even when you factor in Anne not knowing her mother, not reconciling with her in the film, and thus Harriet being the closest thing to a maternal figure we are introduced to.
Overall: Mixed (Home Viewing)
While The Last Word is certainly a touching movie, one which has MacLaine exhibit a strong performance, showing she still, and always will, have it, she overpowers her fellow actors. Which for little Lee Dixon is fine, you can see she is learning from going toe to toe. However, with Seyfried, you expect better. Now, one has to admit, the way Anne is written doesn’t help things. But considering a little kid, who comes off stereotypical, somehow was able to push through very said about her background, you’d think Seyfried could as well. But, instead, she just looks bewildered and as if, like with most of her films, she has no reason to take responsibility to do the heavy lifting, in terms of giving the movie some kind of oomph. For, after all, there is always someone more experienced, someone funnier, and someone who can better create the chemistry between characters, who can do that for her. Hence the mixed label since while MacLaine is wonderful and Lee Dixon a possible star in the making, Seyfried damn near uses them both as crutches.