The studio distributors wish to promote The Last Word as a romantic comedy. The actors all have warm, smiling faces on the artwork, on first glance you would think, Winona Ryder (love interest), Wes Bentley (guy she falls for) and Ray Romano (comic sidekick/best buddy). That’s partially correct; the two leads do have a relationship. Abel (Romano) does fill out something of a buddy role. That’s as far as it goes. I didn’t find the movie light or fluffy, but I found it involving and evolving, as the film felt it needed something to really say. It never gets around to it.
It’s tough being labeled a rom-com when Evan (Bentley) and Charlotte (Ryder) are hooking up under an unusual set of circumstances: Evan’s work is writing…are you ready for this? Suicide notes for people who plan to do themselves in within a few months. His “clients” do in fact go through with it, and because they lack the courage to write something meaningful, they pay him to come up with something to comfort loved ones left behind, discreetly. Supposedly Evan has also written a few greeting cards and short stories, but with a file cabinet full of clients new and, uh, gone, I wonder which was more profitable. If it is the latter business, and business is at least modest, well, there you go.
As he does for his clients, Evan attends the burials, and jots a few thoughts down as the proceedings happen. The idea is that he wants to improve himself as a writer of the ‘last word’ messages, and… alright. Whatever floats your boat.
He is noticed one day by the sister of one of his ‘clients’, and in order to save himself the morbid aspects of his “job”, makes up a story to get Charlotte away from him. It doesn’t work, it backfires. She hasn’t been close to her late brother, and is instantly interested in his ‘long lost college friend’. In her need for ‘closure’, she decides to get romantically involved with the lonely, eccentric Evan, perhaps in a way to have some sort of unspoken mental connection to her late brother. He does wind up liking her, falling in love, but he cannot come clean about…well, what he really does for a living. In the meantime, his latest client, I mean, best buddy Abel is supposed to bring comic relief to the otherwise grim romance. The problem is, we get to know him as a character who very well could be your best friend. We also know what the friendship meetings are really for and what the character is planning to do. Are we supposed to laugh? If we have a mild chuckle, do we check ourselves, saying, hey, the character is also heaping piles of self doubt and negative talk. He’s hired a guy to write his suicide note. Yes, a scene where Abel makes faces at a small baby to make the kid to laugh-and then to cry is supposed to be a funny moment. It’s actually sad and depressing, for Abel is supposed to be a funny friend-instead, he brings a weight of dread down on the viewer.
The film goes by the predictability of rom-com formula, although the implications are far more severe than a simple misunderstanding. I was about to write the film off despite Winona looking great and giving a decent performance. Then issues of Evan’s neutrality, if not indifference, comes up in the movie. It was always at the core, but now it comes to a crossroads. It should get to him, knowing something about his “clients” and their families. All of those who died should have some sort of effect on him. It is here (aside from a brief unneeded stick-up) that Geoffrey Haley’s picture comes into focus. Everything said and done here on out (aside from the very last scene) has a sense of self reflection and focus. There is even a shot which has extreme power in regards to a character’s madness. Maybe he’ll be writing his own death note.
And then Haley disappoints, apparently reminding the audience, hey, this is supposed to be a light romantic comedy, not a deep romantic tragedy.
The Last Word (2008)
Directed by: Geoffrey Haley
Starring: Winona Ryder, Wes Bentley and Ray Romano
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