First Hit: I really enjoyed watching Shirley MacLaine, Amanda Seyfried, and AnnJewel Lee Dixon’s characters and interactions.
After seeing this film the other day, I read a couple of reviews about it and although I enjoyed reading their mostly negative views, I’m not in agreement with them.
What worked for me, was Harriet’s (MacLaine) obsessive compulsive behavior. Anyone that knows me, knows I have these tendencies. Therefore, I could easily laugh out loud at her statements and actions. I can understand other people not finding this amusing. I also liked the way both Anne (Seyfried) and Brenda (Dixon) could make their less overwhelming characters be seen, heard and integral to the story as well.
Briefly, Harriet is a wealthy woman living in a large meticulously kept home. The opening scenes see her as feeling forlorn and without purpose. She isn’t liking her life. She picks on her gardener while he cuts her hedges by telling him he’s doing it wrong. Her cook and housekeeper get supplanted preparing Harriet's meal when she steps in and starts cutting the vegetables. Sitting at the table with the meal, she looks at it and doesn't eat it because of her sadness.
When her futile attempt to kill herself fails thereby ending up in the hospital, she tells the doctor what he is saying to her is incorrect and demeans his ability. She’s outright rude to people. She glances at the obituary page in the local newspaper and realizes that she wants to have some control over what her obituary will say about her.
Storming into the local newspaper’s office she demands Anne, the obituary writer, write her obituary over the weekend. By giving Anne an alphabetical list of family and people she knows, she expects to see a wonderful orbit. As Anne does her research she discovers that nobody likes her. Her priest tells Anne that he "hates, just hates," her. Some of these interview scenes are very funny.
But as with most Hollywood films, we’re going to have a great ending. To get there the filmmakers have Harriet deciding to do some good things to redeem herself. One of them is to “help a poor unfortunate black or handicap” person. And into her life comes Brenda (Dixon), who is spunky, thinks the Dewy Decimal System is stupid, and has a fireball firecracker personality. As the film evolves, we get these three people learning to change who they are to become people they want to be. That’s what this film is about. Living closer to one’s truth.
I really enjoyed the scenes where the three of them interacted. The dynamic and different personalities were made for enjoyment: The pulling the “L” off the sign at her old advertising firm, the road trip, the swimming in the swimming hole, Harriet speaking with both her ex-husband Edward (Philip Baker Hall) and her daughter Elizabeth (Anne Heche), were all well thought out. I also really liked how alive Anne became when she was DJ’ing at the local radio station.
MacLaine was strong and there are few that could have made this role work as well as it did. Seyfried was excellent. Her understated strength was well intentioned in this role. She made her wall almost invisible yet clearly defined and prominent. Dixon was so much fun and created a wonderful energy throughout the film. It was a remarkable casting. Heche was perfect as the success oriented estranged daughter. Hall was strong as her former husband sharing his love for her. Stuart Ross Fink wrote a good script that had some clever lines and scenes. Mark Pellington did a good job of directing these three diverse characters. However, there were a couple of scenes, like the three of them walking with sunglasses on in slow motion, that were overdone and tried to be too clever.
Overall: My own struggles with perfectionism were touched and laughed at while watching this film.