Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Last Word

Sundance 2008
★ ★

I read the synopsis of The Last Word in the Sundance catalog, which said it was a hilarious dark comedy about a guy who makes a living writing suicide notes. The idea sounded so fresh and unusual that I was braced for something very funny. But it never happened. In fact, I wouldn’t say this is a comedy at all, but rather a sometimes intense drama with an absurd premise and some moments of comic relief.

We never learn how Evan, played by Wes Bentley (American Beauty, Ghost Rider), got his start in this unusual profession. But the drama begins when he attends a client’s funeral (to take notes) and meets Charlotte (Winona Ryder), who is there mourning her brother. Charlotte pursues Evan and a relationship develops, although quite understandably, Evan never comes clean about his line of work or his role in her brother’s suicide. While the normally reclusive Evan begins to come out of his shell, he is also working on a note for Abel (Ray Romano), where another relationship shows signs of taking form.

Director Geoffrey Haley has never helmed a feature film before, although he had a very popular short film entry at Sundance a few years ago (The Parlor). Haley wrote the script as well, and the whole thing feels like the work of a young and earnest writer-director working in a hurry on a limited budget, which is pretty much what happened. The story drags in part, is too sharp and painful in others, and suffers from occasionally flat dialogue and undeveloped characters. Only Romano’s Abel manages to evoke real interest, although I must admit that it was jarring to hear the star of Everybody Loves Raymond and the voice of Ice Age’s Manny say potty words.

The Last Word could have been a very funny comedy. I wish Geoffrey Haley would have let it go there.

Labels: , , ,