DVD: The Last Word (2008)

Bentley and Ryder

Whatever happened to Wes Bentley? You remember him, right? He was going to be the Next Big Thing after featuring in a showy role in 1999’s best picture, American Beauty. But he never really caught on. Winona Ryder was once a hot property herself; a rising kid star who had trouble transitioning to adult roles. Then everything went up in flames after a little shoplifting scandal. (How quaint that brouhaha seems now.) Well, these two cooling stars teamed up for a pretty cool indie drama about a man who writes suicide notes for hire via a website.

Evan (Bentley) meets with his clients to learn a bit about them before crafting passages that might capture each person’s uniquely personal pain in the form of an evocative final goodbye. Some clients chicken out, but some follow through; Evan tries not to keep track, but when he notices, he attends the funeral to observe. At one such gathering, he catches the eye of Charlotte (Ryder), the sister of one of his clients. Evan passes himself off as an old college friend of the deceased, and Charlotte pursues him until he agrees to a date. He neglects to confess his complicity in her brother’s suicide, and love blooms. Meanwhile, Evan tries to deal with Abel, a particularly persnickety client played by comedian Ray Romano.

This is an odd film to pin down; it’s not really romantic or comedic enough to be the romantic comedy it aspires to be. The movie has a rather droll sense of humor, like a suicide note with jokes. Charlotte initially appears to be one of those kooky free spirits who populate romantic comedies by the busload, but as the film goes on, one can read between the lines enough to wonder if the demons that drove her brother to kill himself might run in the family. And remember, whenever one movie character lies to another, you can be certain the fib will be exposed, so waiting for the other shoe to drop became somewhat annoying.

Evan talks in quotations, because, “It beats having your own opinion.” He’s a loner with no hobbies and no car in L.A. Despite his lack of a life, Bentley has him always checking his watch, as if he’s late for a very important date. But all he likes to do is sit on his rooftop and read. Evan forces his clients to do homework, with the promise that his notes will “make you sing.” Ryder is more a standard-issue romantic-comedy kooky chick, but there is a dark edge to her, and one suspects she is only an emotional crisis or two away from needing Evan’s services herself. (Not that she knows what he does for a living.) Romano is a little difficult to accept as the curmudgeon man who writes music for people waiting on “hold” on the telephone and despises the modern “cultural reverence of babies.” His booming bleating that he wants his final note to be “a work of art” just feels silly. Sorry, but Ray’s presence pulled me out of the movie.

And the movie was interesting enough. I actually began to wonder if somebody out there really does contract out to write suicide notes. (There certainly is a need.) I fully recommend this movie is you like quirkiness and edgy characters, arty pretension and are not instantly put off by the casual discussion of suicide. This film is much darker than one might expect, and should not be considered a “date movie” – unless you’re going out with Ryder’s Lydia from Beetle Juice.

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