Sundance films have a reputation for being somewhat sad, or a little depressing. The Last Word takes this to a different level as it is infinitely dark, somewhat traumatic, and ultimately unable to break free of the conventions it has set for itself.
Evan (Wes Bentley) has a rather unusual job in that he writes elegant, well thought out suicide notes for those that feel unable to leave their mark on the world themselves. This job brings him into contact with some very strange people, but he takes his job seriously, even attending funerals to hone his skills. While at the funeral of a client, he meets and eventually falls in love with the impetuous Charlotte (Winona Ryder) who has no idea what it is that he does. Evan befriends a client (Ray Romano) and it is through their interactions that Evan begins to see the gravity of his work. Evan attempts to keep his quiet life intact, though it may mean losing Charlotte.
Ray Romano steals the entire film, with his honest sad-sack character offering many of the laughs and the most emotional connection. His childlike attempts to decide once and for all if life is worth living is sweet, rather than alarming or upsetting. Winona Ryder is pardonable in her offenses, as they are mild enough. Her earnest demeanor wears thin about halfway through the film as she has assiduously pursued Wes Bentley’s character, and suddenly suffers a change of heart. The highly intelligent Evan slowly reveals his past, as his lies escalate, and we are led to understand how someone who seems rather strange could eventually find himself in the line of work that he does. The real tragedy, for the most part, is how lonely Evan allows himself to be, and to remain.
Bentley’s mainstay as an actor is to be slightly cold and detached. And in this case he is no different; though the film certainly wins overall points for originality. This is one of the most depressing films I’ve seen in a while. There are some moments of dark comedy, but it’s hard to find sympathy with a character who insists on helping people end their lives. The film’s ending may come as a surprise to some, a sickly sweet nothing that leaves you feeling empty.