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!

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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. recommended