Shirley MacLaine prepares for the end in the phony ‘The Last Word’

Harriet’s journey to enlightenment barely hits any roadblocks.

One and a half stars

The Last Word Shirley MacLaine, Amanda Seyfried, Thomas Sadoski. Directed by Mark Pellington. Rated R. Opens Friday in select theaters.

It’s a good thing that The Last Word won’t be the last word on the acting career of 82-year-old screen legend Shirley MacLaine. While MacLaine gets a rare starring role and an executive producer credit, the movie is barely a step above the Hallmark Channel Christmas movie she showed up in last year—and possibly worse for its pretensions to seriousness. MacLaine plays Harriet Lauler, a wealthy, cranky old lady who decides that before her time is up, she needs to micromanage her own obituary. She uses financial pressure to force local newspaper obituary writer Anne Sherman (Amanda Seyfried) to craft a loving tribute to Harriet, a woman apparently nobody liked.

Obviously, both curmudgeonly Harriet and cynical Anne learn to open up to one another, become better people, etc., but not a single emotion in the movie feels genuine. Harriet’s journey to enlightenment barely hits any roadblocks, and by the end it’s hard to believe that anyone could have disliked her to begin with. She mentors an adorably underprivileged little girl who’s essentially a prop for both the character and the movie, she helps Anne fall in love and find her purpose, and she becomes a DJ on the world’s least hip hipster radio station. None of it is funny or believable or touching in any way, and by the end the prospect of Harriet’s death is more than welcome.

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