The Last Word
Details: (MA15+), 90 mins, United States, English
Synopsis: An odd-but-gifted poet, Evan Merck (Wes Bentley) who makes his living writing suicide notes for the soon-to-be departed. One day, while attending the funeral of a client Evan meets Charlotte (Winona Ryder) the free-spirited sister of the deceased. Blissfully unaware of Evan’s true connection to her late brother, Charlotte becomes fascinated by the introverted writer and love blossoms between the unlikely pair. Evan finds himself juggling an ever-increasing mountain of lies, an amorous new girlfriend, and a sarcastic new client (Ray Romano).
Words for the dying resurrect fallen stars
Starring a ‘once-was’ and a ‘could-have-been’, debutant-writer/director Geoffrey Haley’s The Last Word is the sort of low-budget passion-project that has populated the independent film scene and filled gaps on Blockbuster rental shelves for nearly two decades.
Instantly identifiable as...gulp...'quirky', it tells the introspective story of Evan, a young man who has found an unusual career path – promoting his writing skills to the terminally-depressed and working with them to pen their suicide notes. Attending the funeral of one satisfied client, he meets the grieving sister, Charlotte, and a romance of-sorts develops.
The ‘once-was’ is Winona Ryder, the doe-eyed darling of the silver screen, circa late 1980’s and most of the 1990’s. Prior to her current status as a name by which films like The Last Word get financed, she was the Generation X poster girl - the ultra-cool ‘Audrey Hepburn’ to Julia Roberts’ ‘Rita Hayworth’-like glamour and Jodie Foster's ‘Hepburn’-esque sass. Sought by the A-list of Hollywood’s film-makers - Tim Burton, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Ben Stiller, Jim Jarmusch, Bille August and Australia’s own Jocelyn Moorhouse and Gillian Armstrong – Ryder’s career stumbled with some bad movies (the unwatchable possession-thriller Lost Souls, 2000), overshadowed lead roles (she was blown away by Oscar-winner Angelina Jolie in Girl Interrupted, 1999) and a troubled, very public private life. She was most recently seen as Vulcan royalty in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek (2009).
Playing Evan is the ‘could-have-been’, Wes Bentley, the glowering ‘plastic-bag guy’ from Sam Mendes’ American Beauty (1999). His intense, deeply-set stare and boyish good looks give him an edgy screen presence - a goth Tobey Maguire – and that dark, hard-to-cast contrast may have hurt his leading man potential. And currency talks in Hollywood: the famously troubled production Soul Survivors (2001), the high-profile dud The Four Feathers (2002, opposite Heath Ledger) and the barely-released The Game Of Their Lives (2005), didn’t help Bentley’s bankability.
So Ryder and Bentley are now seeking smartly-written independent productions like The Last Word, and that’s not such a bad thing. It is a fitfully engaging, suitably bittersweet romance with some well-played scenes and an upbeat ending. Everybody will love the dramatic stylings of sitcom star Ray Romano as Abel, a potential client of Evan’s; Romano’s hangdog interpretation of depression is both sad and funny, suggesting he may have a career as an interesting character actor in front of him.
As Romano graduates in small steps from the small screen, the next stop for aging, wayward stars like Bentley and Ryder could be episodic television – Charlie Sheen, Glenn Close, Jeff Goldblum and Gary Sinise are just some of the once-bankable stars now earning a crust in primetime. The Last Word may be the last time we see these two interesting actors in a bigscreen project, which would be a shame.
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