Today I saw The Last Word, a movie that recently hit theatres. After seeing the previews I found similarities and aspects relevant to myself and the story that made me want to see the film. One was that the supporting character was as a young (obituary) writer for a newspaper. She is solicited by this assertive, wealthy and controlling elderly woman who wants the young writer to pen her obituary while she is alive. I myself being a writer was curious to see the journey of this young journalist in her task.
The Last Word was beautifully well written. The characters were also an aspect that I would like to note as they were very appealing and interesting. An older white woman, a younger white woman and an young Black girl I thought was very tasteful and great in terms of representation. I was a little offended however, that the only Black people in the movie such as the young Black girl were attached to the film in terms of charity work. The elderly woman Harriet, wanted a “crippled” or a minority to take under her wing so she could say that she touched or changed their life in some way. I was still able to make many connections to the film despite of this aspect however.
The film follows Harriet (Shirley MacLaine) who is a once successful business woman who lives alone in a huge home. The film starts off following Harriet in different settings in her home and introduces the audience to her characteristics such as her precision and needing to control everything around her. Hence, why she seeks out this young writer to write her obituary before she passes. She could not leave it up to chance about what would be written about her when she passed. She wanted to make sure she knew what was being written about her and that she was in agreeance with it.
The writer that she seeks out is named Anne (played by Amanda Seyfried) who works at a local paper and writes the Obituaries. The money that the paper received from Harriet throughout the years through her advertising agency had helped the paper tremendously. The Editor-in-Chief felt obligated to make Harriet happy when she came to the paper with the idea to have her obituary written prior to her death. The EIC relayed his feelings to Anne and made her feel that the paper could ultimately go under if she did not write the obituary and do it to Harriet’s liking.
Harriet had met her match with this young writer and that’s what I think makes this movie enjoyable to watch and makes you eager to follow their journey. Many would classify Harriet as rude, someone who always thinks she is right and from my initial perspective, engrossed in white (woman) privilege. Anne experienced her mother leaving when she was a young girl which made her develop a no nonsense type of attitude. Not in a way that was rude but showed that she was independent in her thinking and not docile.
Harriet gives Anne a list of over a hundred people to speak to and told her that she wanted the obituary done over the weekend. Anne who could not protest, was forced to do the work in the time allotted and immediately got to work. Everyone that she talked to however, had nothing nice to say about her, except her ex-husband. We learn later in the movie that he never hated Harriet as he had accepted and understood who she was as a person before he married her. However, given what most of the people said about Harriet, Anne had little to work with. When Anne met with Harriet to show her what she came up with, Harriet was not pleased. Their encounter ended in an argument and Harriet yelling at Anne to leave her home.
Harriet in all her flaws, was a practical woman you could say. She ultimately realized that indeed it was her and not Anne’s writing that caused this obituary to turn out that way. Harriet did her research and sought out Anne again. Harriet relayed that she read all these obituaries from different papers and came to the conclusion that there were four elements to a good obituary. The person was loved by their co-workers, they were loved by their families, they made an impact on someone’s life (preferably a crippled or minority if available) and they had something that they did really well or loved. Harriet then tells Anne that she wants her not only to transcribe her obituary, but to help her shape what will be written. That to me, was really dope.
I loved how the lives of these two were changed and broadened through the friendship that they ultimately developed. Again I want to praise the writers of the film because some of the dialogue shared between the characters was just so on point and very in tune with who the characters were personally. Very well done.
As a writer and journalist myself who once wrote a memorial piece about a couple who died in a bus crash, are the aspects that drew me into the film as well as the plot itself. I remember having to seek out the family and close friends of this couple who were chaperoning high school kids on a bus trip to preview my university which was also their alma mater. How do you even capture all of someone’s qualities, accomplishments, goals and perspectives into a obituary piece? It was important to me to that I did as well as I could to honor their lives.
I do not want to spoil the movie for anyone who might go and see it although I do know that I am just a movie lover so many might not even find this write up interesting at all. The movie was so good and I felt myself shedding a tear or two here and there so I think that says a lot about the ways in which the movie tapped into the audience’s emotions. Go see The Last Word, I am sure you won’t be disappointed.