The Last Movie Star, 2017.
Written and directed by Adam Rifkin.
Starring Burt Reynolds, Ariel Winter, Chevy Chase, Clark Duke, Ellar Coltrane, and Nikki Blonsky.
An aging former movie star is forced to face the reality that his glory days are behind him. On its surface, the film is a tale about faded fame. At its core, it’s a universal story about growing old.
Few actors have made as many career blunders as Burt Reynolds. Even fewer of those have had the retrospective humility that Reynolds seems to possess. During an interview with Andy Cohen back in mid-March 2018, Reynolds was asked about the many famous parts he had reportedly turned down over the years, including James Bond, Han Solo, and John McClane And while he kept up a sense of humor, the look in his eyes suggested a different feeling: one of eternal regret.
That same look fills the eyes of Vic Edwards, the protagonist of Adam Rifkin’s The Last Movie Star. Similar to Bill Murray and Bob Harris in Lost in Translation and Michael Keaton and Riggan Thomson in Birdman, Edwards is another one of those mirror roles created to showcase an aging actor coming to terms with their past glory and accepting a new phase in their life, with this part in particular clearly being written for Reynolds.
The main difference between The Last Movie Star and its aforementioned counterparts is its lack of confidence. Sofia Coppola and Alejandro Iñárritu were bold in their script focus, making pseudo-experimental decisions during production without fear of alienating audiences. That’s not the case with Rifkin. If there’s one way to describe The Last Movie Star, it is that it just tries too hard to create meaningful conflict, when the story was more than strong enough to do that. It often employs hyperbolic scenarios in its pursuit of the question of what happened to its main character.
The plot follows Edwards as he decides to accept a lifetime achievement award from this independent film festival in Nashville, only to find out that things aren’t what they seem. There was a perfect opportunity here to show changes that have occurred in the film scene since the Silver Age of Hollywood ended, from the surge in indie productions to the influx of projects courtesy of digital cinema to the integral nature of the Internet in film distribution. And there is some of that, but for the most part Rifkin decides to settle on extreme foils for Edward’s surprise.
For example, the cinephiles that Edwards encounters aren’t just typical fans- they’re the most stereotypical fanboys you can possibly imagine. Nerds, dorks, scrubs; people who look like they would blow off their entire life savings on some element of geek culture. It’s like Rifkin didn’t think audiences would buy the fact that regular folks can do these things whilst still contrasting with the out-of-touch Edwards.
It doesn’t end there. Legitimate social media marketing campaigns are turned into typical millennial generalizations involving constant photo sharing and Instagramming. The worst, however, comes in the form of Ariel Winter’s character, Lil. It’s not just that she dresses trashy for the sake of inhabiting the “whore with a heart of gold” archetype- she’s also in conveniently terrible situations: she’s reliant on her brother for income, she’s in a relationship with a typical asshole, and she drives a vehicle that sputters worse than John Candy’s Mercury Marquis Brougham Coupe in Uncle Buck.
Her burgeoning friendship with Edwards forms the basis for most of The Last Movie Star’s character development, which is admittedly handled well despite the familiar beats. Key to the film’s success in this department is Reynold’s portrayal of Edwards. The anguish that the man has evidently felt over his past comes into play here in an Oscar-worthy delivery. His anger, annoyance, sadness, and ultimate happiness over where life has taken him is put on full display here in a performance that never once veers into the realm of over or underacting. Some of the best moments in the film involve the older Reynolds being edited into past flicks of his like Deliverance, where he communicates with his past self in an attempt at finding closure.
Sadly, I can’t quite say the same thing for his co-stars. Winter, who has garnered fame for her character on Modern Family, seems to have taken this role for the primary purpose of shedding her image on that series and avoiding typecasting. An admirable effort, but her acting doesn’t quite live up to these ambitions. Most of the time I felt that she was overplaying the emotional aspects of Lil, whether it was screaming at her boyfriend on the phone or acting sarcastically towards Reynolds, though she does a great job with the character’s less-fitful moments. The cult following of Reynolds at the film festival doesn’t have much going for it either, and Chevy Chase makes several brief appearances to pocket a quick check as Reynolds old friend.
Here is a film that doesn’t seem confident enough in its narrative alone, instead choosing to reach audiences through amateur measures. Still, I would be lying if I said I didn’t appreciate the The Last Movie Star overall. By actually filming in Tennessee, there’s a real authentic look to the film’s world that you often don’t seen in productions that choose to shoot in New York or LA or Vancouver. And while I don’t think Rifkin had a strong grasp on the film’s comedic spots, his ability to get genuine drama from his cast is not to be underestimated.
Overall, The Last Movie Star provides Reynolds with one of his more thoughtful roles in recent years, an opportunity he uses to his full advantage with a powerful statement that could have doubled as a swan song. I just wish the rest of the movie had lived up to his standard.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★