Speaking on the red carpet before the premiere of her latest movie, The Last Word, legendary actress Shirley MacLaine gave some advice to young women.
“They need to stand in line with themselves, get their own identity balanced, deal with the anger, deal with the sense of not being recognised. Basically, the message was in the Women’s March.”
At 83 and still going strong, MacLaine is the perfect choice to play the lead role of Harriet Lauler, a once successful advertising executive. Harriet has had to fight all her life and, as a result, she keeps tight control of everything, to the extent of hiring a young writer to create her obituary. The less than satisfactory truth leads her on a mission to reshape how she is remembered, with funny and poignant results.
Amanda Seyfried does a nice job of playing the young journalist dragged along in Harriet’s wake, but it is Anne Heche as Harriet’s estranged daughter who is the standout supporting role. A pivotal scene between Heche and MacLaine is confronting and funny.
Thomas Sadoski (Wild, Life in Pieces) plays Seyfried’s love interest who gets caught up in Harriet’s life-changing schemes. Sadoski is an accomplished TV, film and theatre actor but found his experience working with MacLaine exceeded all expectations.
“Working with Shirley, I learned what genius looks like,” he said. “I’ve worked with some great actors but Shirley is something else, the depth of feeling she works with, how she chooses her moments, how she talks to her director, how she works with fellow cast mates.
“What jumped out when I read the script, first, it’s not often you get an opportunity to see three generations of women talking to each other about what it means to be alive and how you want to be remembered, and doing it with humour and humility. It really just leapt off the page.”
“The story was personal to director Mark Pellington (Arlington Road) and to writer Stuart Ross Fink,” explains producer Kirk D’Amico (Eulogy). “Basically you have two strong female characters talking about big issues like life and death. I read the script and loved it and wanted to work with Mark, and a plus was that Shirley MacLaine was already attached. She read the script very early on and fell in love with that character, which is why she said yes, and also there’s not so many great characters out there for older women.
“Mark worked with DP Eric Koretz to make the style warm and accessible and not cold and stylish. Harriet is quite tough and remote so he wanted to bring you closer in to her. You see behind the curtain. She puts up a wall but you really see what’s going on with her emotionally. As a producer, I think it all starts with the script. You ask, can I see it on the big screen? Is it going to attract strong actors?”
The script is certainly a standout and remarkably, the first offering from writer Stuart Ross Fink.
“First movie, and at Sundance, you can’t get any better than that!” he told us ahead of the premiere. “The heart of the story is about how we are remembered. It’s not about what we acquire, it’s the experiences we have and the people we touch, how our lives are enriched by others.
“I was at a point in my life where I was in a certain career and I could see myself continuing that forever and it started me thinking about my legacy and what I wanted to do and what I wanted to be remembered for, and all of those themes came to the fore.
“This script began with the question which I asked myself – what kind of person would have their obituary written while they were still alive? When I started thinking about who that character was, I loved the idea that character was a woman who had grown up in the 1940s and 1950s, who railed against men and the system and became tremendously successful. I loved the idea that she had become this very controlling, demanding person because she’s always had to fight extra hard and this is the last thing that she can control, her obituary.”
The Last Word is already scheduled for US release by Bleecker Street productions on 3 March. Hopefully Australian distribution isn’t far off. The film cuts a nice balance between broad comedy with something important to say about living life to the fullest, at any age.