January 25, 2017

SHOWBUZZDAILY Sundance Film Festival Reviews: “The Last Word” & “Thoroughbred”


THE LAST WORD (Bleecker Street):  Shirley MacLaine does the irascible codger thing.  She’s smart enough not to overplay the very familiar hand she’s been dealt by screenwriter Stuart Ross Fink and director Mark Pellington, but still there’s little here we haven’t seen many times before.  Harriet Lauler (MacLaine), while a holy terror to everyone around her, of course turns out to be nothing but an old softie.  A young, uncertain woman comes into her life in the person of obituary writer Anne Sherman (Amanda Seyfried, fully up to the challenge of going toe-to-toe with MacLaine) when Harriet demands to read her obituary before it’s actually to be run, and naturally Anne emerges from the experience a more enlightened and fulfilled human being.  There’s a bittersweet ending, and even a cutesy foul-mouthed child (the charismatic AnnJewel Lee Dixon) to serve as the movie’s puppy.  Everyone does a professional job–Philip Baker Hall, Thomas Sadoski and Anne Heche turn up in smaller roles–but there’s not a moment of surprise in the material or the filmmaking.  Still, sniffles were loudly sniffled at the premiere screening, and it may well be your mother’s favorite movie of 2017.

THOROUGHBRED (Focus/Universal):  Cory Finley’s first film as a writer/director is a bit mannered, but he’s in utter control of his icy neo-Hitchcockian (and occasionally Kubrickian) material.  His deadly protagonists are a pair of well-heeled but damaged teens, and the script is a showcase for the superb young actresses Anya Taylor-Joy and Olivia Cooke.  (Anton Yelchin also appears briefly as a patsy of the pair, a reminder of how tragically short his career was.)  Taylor-Joy has been making a name for herself with intense turns in The Witch and Split, but Cooke is the revelation here:  usually cast for fragility in projects like Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and Bates Motel, she’s a knockout deadpan comic sociopath.  Finley keeps us guessing until the last minute as to which of his anti-heroines is the most dangerous, his camera elegantly gliding around their Connecticut homes, and he sticks the landing with an emotionally satisfying conclusion that resists the easy temptation for a bloodbath.  It’s a terrific debut.  The extremely unsettling percussion-heavy musical score, incidentally, is by Erik Friedlander, the most original film score since the Oscar-nominated Jackie.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."