Reel Dad: Last Movie Star – Reynolds ready for his close-up

Once upon a time, in a fantasy land called Hollywood, the number one movie star was an engaging man named Burt Reynolds. From 1977 to 1981 he ruled the screen as the number one box office attraction thanks to such films as Deliverance and The Longest Yard. But times and tastes change and, by the mid-1990s, Reynolds was someone who had once been famous, briefly returning to the spotlight in 1997 when he snagged his only Oscar nomination for Boogie Nights.

The meandering, misguided comedy The Last Movie Star gives us one more chance to appreciate the unique mix of charisma and character that Reynolds brings to his roles. Whether pursuing Jill Clayburgh in Starting Over, or roaming the countryside with Sally Field in Smokey and the Bandit, Reynolds radiates endearing sincerity, regardless of the material. Perhaps if he had pushed himself more — accepting the offer to play the Jack Nicholson role in Terms of Endearment instead of making a comedy called Stoker Ace — we might think of his work differently. At least, thanks to this film, we get to see him on screen one more time.

The film quickly establishes — by using video clips of an actual Reynolds conversation with television host David Frost — that fictional actor Vic Edwards was once a big deal in the movies. As the legend enters his Los Angeles home, he surrounds himself with images of his past and realities of his present, a dog he must put down, a cane he must master, a lifetime he must confront. To his surprise, he receives an invitation to be honored at the “International Nashville Film Festival” and, to give the film a story, he decides to accept.

Once the trip begins, though, the movie star realizes how much his star has dimmed. He flies in a middle seat in a crowded airplane instead of first class, driven at his destination in a rundown car instead of a limo, and offered a small room at a noisy motel instead of a suite. These become symbols of the changes in his life as Edwards quickly realizes he has been tricked into believing he was attending a first-class event. But all is not lost. Midway through, the film abruptly turns a corner to become a road trip through the actor’s past as the story shifts to focus on how a man confronts his mortality, a meaningful journey made authentic by Reynolds’ careful underplaying of the man who comes to Tennessee to say goodbye.

If only the rest of the cast, and the film, played on Reynolds’ level. The actor relishes the role, the chances to poke fun at his actual life, the opportunities to share the screen with images of his past. But director Adam Rifkin spends too much time letting Ariel Winter recreate the attitude of her character Alex from Modern Family, and seriously under uses Boyhood’s Ellar Coltrane in a broad comic role. While it’s fun to see Chevy Chase on screen again it’s only when Reynolds lets his memories take him back to a different time that The Last Movie Star finds its way.

Burt Reynolds hoped to be recognized for his acting more than his personality. The Last Movie Star reminds us that, when given the opportunity to simply act, he can be good and, with richer roles, he could have been much better.

Film Nutritional Value: The Last Movie Star

  • Content: High. Burt Reynolds shines as an elderly man who wants to make sure he leaves just the right legacy.
  • Entertainment: High. Few actors can be as engaging as Reynolds, especially when he gets material that stretches him as an actor.
  • Message: Medium. No matter how old we may be, we all have the capacity to change.
  • Relevance: Medium. Any opportunity to revisit the magic Reynolds could create on screen is worth the visit.
  • Opportunity for Dialogue: Medium. Your children may not care who Reynolds was. But you can still relish who he is.

 

The Last Movie Star runs 1 hour, 34 minutes. It is rated R for some sexuality and partial nudity. It is available in theaters, On Demand and on iTunes. Three Popcorn Buckets. 

The Last Word: The magic of MacLaine

The movie camera loves Burt Reynolds in The Last Movie Star.

And it loves Shirley MacLaine in anything she does on any screen.

For more than 60 years — since she first graced Alfred Hitchcock’s The Trouble With Harry in the mid 1950s — MacLaine has surprised at every turn with spontaneity, depth and range. While she may be left out of conversations citing the best in the business, this actress never becomes routine. She always offers something fresh.

Her 2017 film, The Last Word, gives us a fresh reason to love her at the movies. This tender drama about an elderly woman confronting the realities of age gives the actress lots of room to do what she does so well, to challenge how people think, observe how people act and question what people resolve. As with her most famous characters, from Aurora Greenway in Terms of Endearment to Doris Mann in Postcards from the Edge, the fictitious Harriet Lauler showcases MacLaine’s ability to reveal a lady’s soul. Even though the script can be predictable, her fresh work makes the movie a treat. What a great opportunity to celebrate, again, the magic this lady can create.

From its opening moments, The Last Word is all MacLaine. The opening scenes, actually, simply showcase her face. The lines that communicate years of experience enable the actress to express more with a glance than many can with dialogue. We immediately savor this proud, elegant and self-obsessed woman as she travels through the patterns of her days and the rhythms of her relationships. She must, as the title suggests, always get in the last word, with her gardener, cook and anyone else she meets. So when this grand lady decides to hire — before she dies — a young writer to create the ultimate obituary we know we’re in for a journey through Harriet’s hopes, fears and disappointments.

At moments the movie can feel familiar, with standard issue conflicts between generations, tensions with relationships, revelations among coworkers. As Harriet tries to turn around her life — to give substance to the obituary she wants to be written — she traverses a somewhat predictable path that includes a road trip that offers conversations, a broken down car, a failed reunion and selfies. As many times as we may have seen such setups, MacLaine makes them feel fresh. As with every performance she gives, the actress makes each moment feel as if it all just happens. And it’s wonderful to see her still at work, still center screen, at age 82.

Much like Harriet reviewing the milestones of her life, there is a sense that The Last Word gives MacLaine, as an actress and a woman, a chance to do the same. As we see photographs of the actress through the years — used as props in the character’s life — we remember all the memorable MacLaine moments from The Apartment and Terms of Endearment to the recent Bernie. At its best, The Last Word reminds us how MacLaine creates reel magic on screen when she gets to play interesting characters. What a delight this actress can be.

The Last Word runs 1 hour, 48 minutes. It is Rated R for language and is available On Demand and online.