Bleecker Street releases The Last Word at AMC/Loews Lincoln Square and Regal Union Square 14 on March 3rd, 2017.
NYC MOVIE GURU: When it comes to finding the right balance between entertaining the audience, provoking them emotionally as well as intellectually, which of those three elements was the most challenging to tweak in the editing room?
Mark Pellington: Julia Wong, my editor, was very, very tough when it came to emotion and what to reveal emotionally. I had made a very sentimental movie several years before called Henry Poole is Here and I told her, "I'm sentimental, so you really have to put me in check." She was really, really, really vicious and said to me that sentimentality had to be earned. On the page, she was even more rigorous when it comes to that. The script flows between shifting in tones. I felt that I had done a good job in the re-writing of the script and how it went from one piece to another. I felt that the flow was pretty good on the page, so we honored that. We only had one scene that we dropped, so it wasn't like that we found it in the editing room. Balancing the use of music, tunes and score is a something that I feel comfortable doing and was really happy with the songs that we chose which is a big part of the film.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How important is likability when it comes to a character like Harriet?
MP: For me it's not important. I think that if I understand the character and what makes them who they are, then I can deal with that. In The Last Word I think that you understand that Harriet's bitterness and controlling behavior which comes across as very pompous, sharp and off-putting. It's the kind of behavior that people allow others to get away with, especially older people. They're allowed to get away with being cranky motherf*ckers. I've met plenty of curmugeonly older folks that you really realize after you spend a little time with them that there's something else underneath it. If you didn't see Harriet's loneliness and sadness in the movie, then you'd have a different attitude of her.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How crucial is it to allow the audience get inside Harriet's head?
MP: I could have made a poignant character study of the life of a lonely woman. In The Last Word, the story takes her out of that place. You see it in bits and pieces throughout the film---the moments of reflection and contemplation. Those are my favorite moments of the film.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How do you imagine Harriet's relationship with her parents?
MP: In an earlier draft of the film, she went into an anecdote about her father growing up on a farm and how she was taught the way to be that she was taught. After she gave her speech at the community center about risk, I think that that's where it was, and early on, we made a decision to not open that up. That would be an interesting thing to explore.
NYC MOVIE GURU: From a scale of 0 to 10 of bad mothers in cinema (10 being Norman Bates' mother), where would you put the character of Harriet?
MP: Oh, god! She's a very contemporary, narcissistic parent. At the end of the day, as she said, she's out to take inventory. Some people have said that she was very cruel to her daughter. As she said, "I am who I am." So, I'd put her in the middle at around a 5.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What are some big risks that you took throughout your career as a filmmaker?
MP: I Melt With You was a really risky film for me in that it's really dark, I put a lot of my own money into it and it didn't come back to me, but it revolutionized the way that I think about filmmaking and how little of a crew you actually need to tell a story. Arlington Road was risky and offending, yet that was a risk that the producers knew going in, but in retrospect, it changed me forever because it's usually very hard to shock or surprise me. In a way, that sort of conditioned me about the sense of shock in reading the script. The Last Word isn't very risky. Every time I try to risk comedy and drama, it's risky because it's very difficult to blend.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How did you decide which particular demographics to make The Last Word for?
MP: It's not for 17-year-olds, so the language, the F bombs, are what made it an R-rating. When we did the first focus group, there were 33-year-old guys, they were not going to see the movie---it's not for them. I think it's squarely for people over the age of 40 and predominantly women, earnest people and uncynical people.
NYC MOVIE GURU: I believe that CGI are merely standard effects while everything related to humanism are truly special effects. Do you agree or disagree?
MP: I agree 100%. I've never made a CGI movie. I grew up in realism. I grew up in Watergate, and Sydney Lumet movies. I loved Network before I should have. I never liked fantasy, I never liked Dungeons & Dragons. Those kind of world-building things Game of Thrones, I appreciate that people like them, but I never got into them, never ever. I like imagination and fear. I remember having this conversation years ago when I was going to direct the remake of The Orphanage. I like A Monster Calls---that kind of stuff, but when it comes to fantasy, I'm much more of a realist. The kind of films I've worked on have always had in-camera, practical effects.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Would something be lost by watching The Last Wor on the small screen?
MP: During my first movie, Going All the Way, we were watching the dailies, we were shooting the first scene of the close up of Rachel Weisz taking her sunglasses off and smiling. I've never watched anything I've done on the big screen before that, and my heart dropped and my breath was literally taken away. I was like, "Oh my god! I get it! I get it! I get it thousand times now---the magic of the big screen." We only screened it on the big screen for its rhythm and its feeling. The Last Word plays well on the small screen. It'd be fine if someone watched it on iTunes. It's very verbal and doesn't have tons of space in it, it has moments and plays fine on the big screen, but I shot it as kind of a hybrid instead of as a movie that can only be seen on a super wide screen. While shooting, you have to think about, "Where are people going to see this film?"
NYC MOVIE GURU: What would make for a great double feature with The Last Word?
MP: Something by Hal Ashby: Being There and Harold and Maude.