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Spotlight: 'The Last Word'

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The Last Word, the new dramedy from director Mark Pellington (Henry Poole is Here), utilizes a rather flimsy premise. It centers on Harriet (Shirley MacLaine), a wealthy retired businesswoman with major control problems. She's such a control freak that she even feels the need to tell her groundskeeper how to trim the bushes. "It's top to bottom!"

When she winds up in the hospital after an accidental overdose, she decides she wants to make sure she'll receive a proper obituary upon her eventual death. So she enlists young Anne Sherman (Amanda Seyfried) from the local paper to write the thing before she dies, dangling the carrot of a huge donation to the paper upon her death to entice the paper's editor to let Anne devote a significant amount of time to interviewing her various acquaintances and penning a proper tribute.

What Anne finds is that not too many people like Harriet. In fact, no one likes her. She's bossy. She's stubborn. She's can't ever acknowledge she's wrong. Even the local priest admits to hating her after she reprimanded him for not holding the wafer properly and serving crappy wine during Mass.

Anne doesn't care for Harriet much either, so she tells Harriet that, after doing her research, she would rather not pen lies about how she lived life to the fullest and gained the respect of her peers. Predictably enough, Harriet doesn't take Anne's "no" for an answer and strives to give Anne a reason to write an obit that praises her various achievements. What follows is a predicable female bonding movie better suited to cable channels such as Hallmark and Lifetime.

While we don't want to spoil the ending of the movie, which opens area-wide on Friday, suffice it to say that after Harriet begins to mentor a young poor girl from a broken home (Annjewel Lee Dixon) and rather inexplicably starts working as a DJ at a college radio station and playing deep tracks from her vinyl collection, Anne begins to rethink her initial reaction to Harriet (early in the film, she even declares that Harriet "puts the 'bitch' in obituary"). But since Pellington telegraphs the movie's ending and then clutters the plot with various detours (a road trip to reunite Harriet with her daughter, for example), the journey to self-discovery takes a particularly tedious and tiresome route.

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