The Last Word
Sep 4, 2023
Jan Miller Corran
John Kapelos, Barbara Niven, Tom Katsis, Carole White
In recent years we have seen a stage play filmed and put to film to exhilarating effect. That play, or rather broadway musical is, of course, ‘Hamilton’, which brought thrills and electrified a whole new audience when it landed on Disney Plus at the peak of the Covid pandemic in 2020. ‘The Last Word’ is another stage play put to film, however, this time, perhaps because it is not a broadway musical, it feels a far more stagnant concept, one which inspires boredom instead of invention.
‘The Last Word’ begun life as a stage production in Los Angeles in 2019, with the film the recorded closing night performance of the play. And the film is just that, a precise recording of the closing night performance, filmed from a stagnant camera above the audience. This nullifies any real direction from Kate Johnston, and limits any filmmaking prowess that could be displayed. This staleness makes the film, or rather the play, far less exciting, as, though they may want us to feel as though we are, we are not part of the audience, and so cannot feel that live theatre experience.
This is a particular shame because what is actually shown on stage is bold and interesting, feeling like a bizarre mix of Henrik Ibsen and Woody Allen, two of the finest writers to grace stage and screen respectively, despite questionable personalities and beliefs. The Ibsen comparison, though perhaps tenuous, comes from the plays depiction of a troubled marriage, and the effect which death and such can have on this relationship, though ‘The Last Word’ has a male protagonist, rather than the usual Ibsen heroine. The link to Woody Allen is again tenuous, though perhaps less so, with the film focusing on a writer, a struggling writer, and how his work is intertwined with his love, all in a setting which could easily be the interior of a glossy Manhattan apartment.
The play, which is written by Jan Miller Corran, tells the story of Brett Harper (John Kapelos), a previously successful award winning novelist, and his struggle to complete the final chapter of his book, a role which has always been anonymously undertaken by his late wife Jillian (Barbara Niven). Struggling, Brett begins seeing his dead wife, who chastises him for his infidelity and failures throughout their marriage, as well as how Brett handled her death. All the while his intrusive neighbours Fred (Tom Katsis) and Madge (Carole White) attempt in vain to help Brett move on from his wife’s passing and get back on with his life. Corran’s script is strong, with fast zippy dialogue that brings the best out of the impressive cast of actors, whilst also broaching topics of what love and marriage mean, and crucially how to move on from the death of a loved one.
‘The Last Word’ is a good play with a good film adaptation just waiting to happen. However, this attempt to bring the play to screen via a direct recording falls flat as a result of the uninspired direction and uninventive camerawork.