The Last Word, starring Shirley MacLaine as a miserable old woman and Amanda Seyfried as the ornery journalist writing her obituary ahead of time, could’ve been a celebration of lady curmudgeons. And for the first 45 minutes or so—which I LOVED—it is. But what starts off smart and a little dark ends up lobotomized and artificially cheery, making for an unintentionally jarring viewing experience, like interrupting an HBO drama with a Disney Channel movie.
This is frustrating, because the elements of a good movie are there. Despite her prominent display of writing essays by hand, Amanda Seyfried is initially pretty convincing as a journalist: She’s got the sullen attitude, bad posture, poor conversational skills, crappy apartment, and compulsive curiosity about other people’s lives. So far, so good! Unfortunately, this realistic, complex, brow-furrowing human is transformed by her friendship with Shirley MacLaine into a warm, maternal, sentimental young lady whose decision to quit her job we are meant to celebrate. No thank you!
Then there’s the casual racism. The only person of color in this movie is a kid who exists to show how good Shirley MacLaine has become. Important news: If you’re making a movie in 2017 and you are using a person of color as a foil to reveal a white person’s goodness, YOU ARE DOING EVERYTHING WRONG.
Watching the mess unfold, I couldn’t help but imagine this movie getting script-doctored by Carrie Fisher or—if we’re really dreaming—Nora Ephron. Now those are some lady curmudgeons I can respect. The Last Word, ostensibly about women journalists and cranky old women, is a movie that could’ve paid homage to them. Instead, it just made me miss them—even more than usual.