Shirley MacLaine is always a pleasure to watch, but in this incarnation her character Harriet Lauler is unremarkable and has no redeeming qualities, despite contrived efforts to give her a soft centre. Her shrieking, mocking treatment of her estranged daughter and apparent total disinterest in her own grandchildren is more off-putting than the sum total of all the tidbits thrown at the viewer to evoke sympathy for her.
Amanda Seyfried pulls a thin performance as a bland, marginally unlikeable character who fails to engage the viewer beyond the surface. Her few chances at displaying real emotion are awkward to watch, especially her speech during the funeral scene.
AnnJewel Lee Dixon is an injection of vibrancy into a rather dull film, but her character serves no real purpose to the plot, and I'm left puzzled as to why she was written in at all. Her character's consistent use of strong swear words is in very poor taste, evidently intended to be hilarious and charming. Through no fault of the actress, it is neither. With the exception of a brief punchy appearance by Anne Heche, all the other characters in the movie are generic and forgettable.
The camaraderie between the three female leads is unconvincing. The plot is incohesive, meandering here and there with no real substance or structure. The drama feels forced, the romance is boring, the comedy falls flat. There are plenty of motivational quotes that sound like they're right out of fortune cookies or a teenager's Instagram account.
One key scene in a boardroom is obviously intended to explain a huge part of Harriet Lauler's life, but it is played out in such haste and without clarification that it creates more questions than it answers. The overall pace is patchy, feeling very rushed towards the end, with Amanda Seyfried's character Anne professing 'true love' for Harriet: a character she has apparently only known for one week, and intensely disliked for most of it. One clichéd overnight road trip and they're soul mates.
The ending is corny, trite and predictable, played out mawkishly as though the viewer will be filled with matching sentiment, but I was left cold.
Basic plotholes abound, for example a stranger being granted immediate unfettered access to vulnerable children, and a young child being taken away overnight by someone who has never met the child's parents. The child is left alone outside a road stop with headphones on. A young woman is fired unexpectedly without good reason, and smiles about it, showing no resentment in later scenes. Another woman is called away suddenly from her first time sleeping with her new boyfriend, and again shows no reaction or resentment when the 'emergency' turns out to be on somebody's whim. Child estrangement, mental illness, suicide attempts are all glossed over as though they're a big joke.
Perhaps the two saving graces of this movie are the cinematography and the soundtrack. The colour palette throughout is warm, suburban and summery. There are plenty of artistic shots of trees and gardens, a rippling moonlit lake, good whiskey in crystal tumblers, haute cuisine to die for, stylish homes with various treasures on display and soft fabrics fluttering in the breeze, then the contrasting gamut of busy office, cosy apartment, cluttered radio station, and comforting American road trip/motel/diner scenery. Not to mention Amanda Seyfried's angelic features and Shirley's pixie ones. The soundtrack is made up of vintage classics that would make even a record purist nod along, and is integral to the plot, such as it is.
To give credit where it is due, it was interesting to see a mainstream film centered around an elderly lady where she isn't a generic elderly stereotype. The one scene between Harriet and her ex-husband was engaging and touching. Her scenes of feeling isolated and lonely highlight an important aspect of real life. Perhaps a few of the many ancillary characters could have been cut from the story to allow for better character development overall.
As it is, I find this movie harmless and underwhelming. Fine as one-off easy viewing when you don't want to be mentally challenged.