Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net with Rotten Tomatoes link by: Harvey Karten
Director: Jeff Lipsky
Screenwriter: Jeff Lipsky
Cast: Rebecca Schull, Jill Durso, AJ Cedeño, Reed Birney
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/16/19
Opens: March 29, 2019
Prospective viewers take note. “The Last” features a story that would play better on the stage than on the big screen. Writer-director Jeff Lipsky, whose “Mad Women” features a mother of three daughters who commits a crime of conscience and becomes radicalized in prison, segues into a new movie about one woman who is mad-insane (arguably, at one time), another two who are mad (angry as hell and rightly so), and two men whose views about where to put the great grandma are radically different. Since “The Last” is rich in dialogue, including a stunning forty-five minute monologue by the 90-year-old actress Rebecca Schull as the 92-year-old Claire, could easily fit on an off-Broadway stage with a little sand to represent a beach.
Here is yet another take on the Holocaust, the greatest crime of all time. “The Last” is not likely to be the last look at the atrocity, nor should it be. Lipsky puts an elderly woman on the front burner, rare enough in the movies these days, a character who is quite different from the person her many-generation family thinks she is. The film’s advertising notes that she will reveal some details of her life three-score and ten years ago that has a sobering effect on her family. However, no film critic should destroy the suspense by revealing the coup d’ètat, nor should readers who suspect the revelation to be a shattering read any commentary on the film that exposes this key feature.
With a stunning performance from nonagenarian Rebecca Schull, perhaps best known for her role in the TV comedy “Wings” about two brothers trying to run an airline from Nantucket, “The Last” opens on the kind of Rosh HaShanah service in which Josh (AJ Cedeño), wearing kippah and identifying as Modern Orthodox, challenges the group by revealing that he does not really believe in God. Yes, there may have been a burning bush, but not one that was lit up by a Divine Bic. Yes, the Red Sea may have seemed to part, but perhaps the good guys escaped from Pharaoh’s army by walking on the rocks. Despite Josh’s skepticism, his wife Olivia (Jill Durso), has undergone a conversion to Judaism, not without feeling embarrassed by her nudity after dunking in the purifying Mikveh baths.
A Mikveh would have been better suited for Claire, who is the least pure family relic, and who in the film’s key middle delivers one of the longest monologues ever to appear on celluloid rather than its more appropriate place on the legit stage. Claire’s tale is of her escape from Germany during the rise of Hitler and her attainment of U.S. citizenship thanks to a marriage of convenience with one Moishe. Her granddaughter Melody (Julie Fain Lawrence), married to would-be graphic novelist Harry (Reed Birney), can identify strongly with Claire, given that Melody lost both of her parents in the war.
When Claire reveals that she is terminally ill and has booked passage to Oregon for a gentle end to her active life, the stage (or rather, the screen), is set for yet another surprise that leads Olivia into a convulsive tantrum, wracked with psychic pain.
While you might expect “The Last” to be targeted to a Jewish audience—it did, in fact, play at a Jewish center prior to its March 29th opening this year—there is every reason for an audience of all faiths or none to find universality in the plot. Despite the low level of histrionics in favor of some carefully written dialogue, “The Last” is a daring film that can be appreciated by a select, sophisticated audience.
123 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B