Harriet (Shirley MacLaine) is a retired successful businesswoman
who lives a life of splendid isolation, in her big house all by herself.
She's so bored, and such a perfectionist, that she takes the hedge
clippers away from the gardener (because he's not doing it right) and the
spatula away from the cook/housekeeper (because she's not doing it right,
either). If she has any
friends, they're not in evidence. No
family, either. Not even a
pet. Just her rattling around
by herself in her big suburban McMansion, and one night she takes some
pills with her wine out of sheer boredom.
The breakthrough moment comes after that, though, when she's back
at her dining room table, alone, again contemplating the pills, when she
spills her wine, uses a newspaper to sop up the mess, and in so doing
notices an obituary that she thinks is poorly written.
Because it's not true, about that person, whom she knew.
So the next morning she marches into the newspaper (where she
apparently once had a financial interest) and demands to see the obit
writer, Anne (Amanda Seyfried). Harriet
challenges Anne's truthfulness and her writing style, but Anne's boss
tells her she has to put up with it. Harriet
then challenges Anne to go ahead and write Harriet's obituary, and
proceeds to supply her with names of people to consult.
Anne reluctantly agrees, but discovers that nobody likes Harriet.
Not any past colleagues, not her ex-husband, not even her priest
(who can't think of a single good thing to say, either....apparently he
was absent that day in seminary when they taught tact as personal ethics).
We know what's going to happen here:
Anne and Harriet become friends, despite themselves.
Anne's Mother had abandoned the family as a child, so the
substitution there is obvious, and Harriet is estranged from her adult
daughter, so equally obvious emotional replacement.
But that doesn't keep them from speaking the sort of harsh
truthfulness that won't be mistaken for diplomacy.
Part of Anne and Harriet's relationship is to challenge each other
out of their comfortable personal bubbles.
Anne, besides walking around with headphones all the time, doesn't
seem to have any ambition beyond the local newspaper, even though she
studiously keeps a diary of essays. Harriet
is challenged to “take on” an at-risk child, and she finds just the
one she wants, Brenda (AnnJewel Lee Dixon), who has a potty mouth for a
nine-year-old, but isn't afraid to speak her mind.
Harriet finds some fulfillment in an unexpected place:
as an old-school disc jockey on one of those “independent”
radio stations that pride themselves on classic vinyl.
Anne finds romance in an equally unexpected place.
And even in the unlikely road trip where Brenda, Harriet, and Anne
wind up bunking in the same motel bed, the moment comes when they
spontaneously swim in a hot spring by moonlight, and suddenly life just
seems to be one big adventure.
Does it tell you anything that the screening this reviewer attended
was sponsored by the AARP? Yes,
we “of a certain age” will revel in Shirley MacLaine playing the
incorrigible, rascally old coot, and she's well-cast for the role.
But will younger audiences find her eleventh-hour
“transformation” all that interesting?