Image Entertainment // 2008 // 94 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Joel Pearce (Retired) // April 29th, 2009
A romantic comedy where opposites distract.
Without a doubt, The Last Word is one of those films that shouldn't work. It's derivative, a bit too mean-spirited to catch the attention of the target audience for the genre, and has few narrative surprises. But it does work. In fact, it's a fine little film.
Evan (Wes Bentley, American Beauty) is a ghost writer for people contemplating suicide. He sees it as a kind service to those who want to leave beautiful words to their loved ones, but it makes him a little socially awkward. Things go haywire for him when he meets Charlotte (Winona Ryder, Heathers), the sister of one of his clients. They strike up a relationship, but he lies that he was a friend of Charlotte's brother, not an accessory to his tragic death.
From the plot summary, this really does sound like a typical romantic comedy. The two leads are drawn to each other but have little in common. They meet under false pretenses. There are a series of lies that would bring down the relationship if they were let loose. Without spoiling the end in too much detail, I can assure you that it, too, fits the formula well.
Normally, this kind of generic story structure is perfect fodder for a negative review. In this case, though, so many things work well it doesn't matter that we've seen the story before. Bentley and Ryder are both playing the kind of characters that made them famous in the first place. Bentley is a darkly poetic loner and Ryder is outgoing but off-kilter, quickly drawing him into her significantly larger field of gravity. They both do well with these roles, of course, and it's hard not to be drawn to their relationship.
The script is also phenomenal, more literate than expected, which also sets The Last Word apart from the usual fare. The friendship that develops between Evan and a new client (Ray Romano in an atypical role) sets up a world where decisions, lies, and conversations really do have significant consequences. The poems that Evan includes in his drafts aren't just there to show off the scriptwriter's knowledge of poetry; they also creates a layer of meaning that runs beneath the rest of the film.
The Blu-ray disc isn't going to blow anyone away, but it's a solid release. The video is mastered at 1080i, but I have to admit that I couldn't really tell much of a difference. The film doesn't have much movement or action, though, and this could cause some problems on certain displays. The sound is delivered in a completely unnecessary DTS-HD track, considering that The Last Word is a very dialogue-heavy film. The special features, just a handful of deleted scenes, are the same as on the DVD, in standard definition.
While I quite enjoyed The Last Word, it definitely won't appeal to everyone. Serious fans of romantic comedies will probably find it a bit too dark and cold to relate to, while serious indie film fans will be a bit turned off by the generic plot. By trying to appeal to both groups, I fear that The Last Word will alienate everyone a little.
In all, though, The Last Word is an appealing little film. It's not liable to become anyone's favorite, but it's certainly worth a spin in the player. All things considered, I wouldn't say the Blu-ray is a significant upgrade from the DVD, though, especially considering the interlaced transfer.
Review content copyright © 2009 Joel Pearce; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes