Had I seen it before: No.
What IMDb says: Harriet is a retired businesswoman who tries to control everything around her. When she decides to write her own obituary, a young journalist takes up the task of finding out the truth resulting in a life-altering friendship.
– At least one movie that makes me cry
Why I picked it: I remember seeing this trailer A LOT when I was going to see other movies in early 2017. And I thought “yeah, that looks good, I want to see that” but never got around to it. Well… it’s on Amazon Prime now so here we are.
What I liked about it: Arguably the most difficult requirement for my 30 Movies in 30 Days list is “at least one movie that makes you cry.” It’s hard to know if a movie is going to make me cry or not, and I find I oftentimes don’t cry at the same movie twice. This was not specifically picked to fulfill this requirement but it is somewhat of a relief I won’t have to call in Steel Magnolias or The Fault in Our Stars later in the month. While The Last Word does rely on a lot of tried-and-true storytelling formulas to make this work, at the end of the day, it punched me in the gut and made me feel something.
The two lead characters are both engaging. Notice how I said “engaging” and not likable. Harriet is a bitch, but she owns it. She’s strong and confident and doesn’t let anyone tell her she’s wrong. It of course helps that Shirley MacLaine is playing her, and does a wonderful job. Harriet is a perfect example of how a character doesn’t necessarily have to be “likable” to be interesting. The other lead is a writer named Anne who has a super messy car. Ok, so it MAY have been a little big easier than usual to see myself in a protagonist. Anne is scared to share her writing with the world and instead lives her life as an obituary writer.
It’s this dichotomy that drives the plot forward. We have one confident character who insists on being 100% in control of every situation and we have another who may be regarded as a nicer person, but also isn’t being loyal to her own vision for her own life because she’s too busy second guessing herself. One is a risk taker, one plays it safe. I think the movie works because it exemplifies an internal struggle most people are already dealing with: that debate between going out on your own to make yourself happy and doing what makes others happy in the name of safety and security. Harriet and Anne are wonderful personifications of this.
The movie is paced well, and we get more and more invested in both Anne and Harriet as individuals as well as their relationship with each other. There’s a nice balance here. Neither character exists solely to advance to story arc of the other, instead they both help each other grow as the movie progresses.
What I didn’t like: The trailer made me think that the young black girl, Brenda, would be more of a factor than she was. While she has some funny jokes, the character never really evolves past the sassy black girl stereotype she is the trailer, which is a bloody shame. The premise could’ve lent itself to an old-white-lady-unlearning-racist-stereotypes narrative but never embraces that opportunity. Unfortunately, Brenda is that character that exists solely to advance Harriet’s arc instead of getting an arc all to herself.
I also don’t really think it was necessary for Anne to have a romance subplot. While this relationship rightfully plays second fiddle to the Harriet/Anne relationship, but it is an eyeroll-inducing “ugh typical Hollywood” type of move. The story would have been just as impactful without it.
Will I watch it again: Most definitely. I think my mom would like it.