Friday, March 10, 2017

When Critics Attack...

Film critics.   You need them but you don't.  

These days, I have to rely on movie reviews to decide where to spend my fifteen bucks.  Most of these critics are self-absorbed personalities who sadly can make or break a film with a few strokes of a poison pen.   Personally, I used to rely on the criticism wielded by the late Gene Siskel, whose thoughts I always welcomed more than those of his bloated and pompous partner Roger Ebert.  

So you pick up the newspaper and the trades as new movies come out every Friday and you read superlative reviews of some film.   I listen to what they say, I check out the damn thing, and I throw up.   What the hell were they thinking, I wonder?

Well, there's the flip side.   Take, for instance, "The Last Word" starring Shirley MacLaine and Amanda Seyfried.   Now, Shirley's name makes me sit up a little. But the reviews I read were so heinous that, normally, I would said no way.

But, as it turns out, a friend of mine was one of the executive producers on the movie so I did the nice thing and supported it with my attendance.

One more time, I leave the theater thinking....what the hell were they thinking?Because "The Last Word" is a perfectly fine little movie loaded with charm, strong acting turns, and a positive message that more people should be embracing.

Go figure.

The always reliable MacLaine plays Harriet Lauler, a now-stern senior citizen who made her name as an advertising agency executive back in the day.  Sort of a Mad Woman.   Well, after being forced unceremoniously out of her business, Harriet is living out her years as a bitter lady who berates the Japanese gardener.  When she reads one too many glowing newspaper obituaries about people she knows were really detestable in real life, Harriet decides to make sure her own obituary is well done.   She engages with a young newspaper writer (Seyfried) who fancies herself as an essayist but is stuck writing death notices to do the personal job.

Naturally, the girl interviews all of Harriet's contemporaries, but nobody has a nice thing to say.   But, once she digs a little deeper and becomes a very odd BFF of Harriet, the real tale of life begins to emerge.

"The Last Word" takes you on this journey of discovery as two women start to understand what is important about life.  There are some set pieces that are both heartwarming and funny.   At one juncture, Harriet decides that she needs to rehabilitate a juvenile delinquent and handpicks a little African-American girl with a potty mouth that single-handedly earns this film an "R" rating.   Another comic scene has Harriet reconnecting with her estranged daughter played by Anne "who dug her up" Heche.   Harriet has a laughing fit over lunch that is pure...well...Shirley MacLaine.

Another curveball of a subplot finds Harriet become a classic rock DJ who has a personal affinity for the Kinks.  This might have looked like a silly detour in the screenplay, but, somehow, the actors make it seem believable and organic.

If I have a quibble with "The Last Word," it's with the ending, which was predictable for me from the very first reel.   But, indeed, it's the only conclusion they could have had that would have effectively closed the loop on the story they were trying to tell.

Yep, chalk up another misfire by the mainstream movie critics.  "The Last Word" is perfectly fine entertainment.   The world doesn't explode in it. There's no real violence, unless you want to count some damage to a company sign.  It's simple and nice and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.

It's getting so that the only film reviewer you can count on these days

LEN'S RATING:  Three stars.

Dinner last night:  Steak and pan roasted tomatoes.

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