- Katie Bell
The Last Thing He Wanted (2020)
For a film that was rated 6% on Rotten Tomatoes, The Last Thing He Wanted was a massive let down.
Yes, you read that correctly. When I see 6% on Rotten Tomatoes, I assume a film is "so bad, it's good". I mean, Cats (2019) has 20%! And yeah, there are some moments of that film that I wish I could forget forever (cockroaches for starters), but ultimately, it has a few, "so bad, it's good" moments, making it worthy of a one-off watch.
It's important to note, that The Last Thing He Wanted didn't just pique my interest because of its low score on the tomatometer, but also because it stars Anne Hathaway, Ben Affleck, Rosie Perez and Willem Dafoe. So what happened? How did it all go so wrong? And do I agree with the tomatometer score? Read on, and all of these questions will be answered.
This movie may just be the most convoluted film I've ever watched. I wish I were being melodramatic. I'm really not.
The Last Thing He Wanted seems to be a modern noir film. The protagonist, Elena (Anne Hathaway), is a journalist, who ends up being thrown into the middle of the story she's investigating, for the purpose of helping her father. Ultimately, the biggest issue with this film, is that the story needs to be deciphered. Now, I'm all for communicating a storyline without spoonfeeding viewers. I think it's important for an audience to be able to think and interpret for themselves (particularly when it comes to the communication of themes). However, this film takes things a step too far. The early film narration, where some of the context is communicated, is delivered by Hathaway at a mumble - which makes sense, I mean, it's not the kind of information you'd gladly scream from the hilltops. However, that mumbling competes with music, and the noises of a busy news bull pen. Furthermore, it's written in a somewhat poetic style, almost reminiscent of Angela Betzien's theatre work (...a reference that will only make sense to you if you're abreast of the Australian playwright scene). Anyway, when all of these elements are combined, the outcome for me was that I picked up about every third word. This would have been okay, if this was Charnstar's A Cinderalla Story 6: Catfish, because I could have gone ahead and watched the exact same story in five other versions before viewing number 6, filling in any knowledge gaps as I went. Here though, no prior knowledge or preparation could have helped me to understand the context of this film.
Adding to the communication issues, the on-screen writing is really difficult to read (granted it's only really used in the film's opening, but this is still important). I just watched the beginning of the movie again on my laptop, and was able to read everything in the opening moments. However, it's very challenging to read that same text on a regular-sized television screen. The font size is small and the words are written in white, often positioned against light backdrops. To be fair, when I read the words back just now, none of it is vitally essential to understand the broad strokes of this story, but I think that if you are going to go to the trouble of including the typed notes of the protagonist, they should be able to be read on any screen.
Finally, oftentimes when Elena begins a conversation with another character, it can feel as though the audience is entering in the middle of what is being said. We aren't. We are usually there from the start. However, the dialogue is sometimes fast, and often assumes that the audience has knowledge of people and places and just generally has an idea of what is actually happening in the film (and in Elena's life) up until that point. I could follow these conversations, but perhaps to the same extent that I might if I were semi-fluent in a language. Again, the broad-brushstrokes of what is being discussed are accessible, but if you want me to talk about the finer details, there's just no way I could. To the actors' credit, in Hathaway and Dafoe's scenes together, it's easy to follow along. Their father/daughter relationship is perhaps one of the best-explored relationships in the film, and this may be why their dialogue is easiest to follow...or maybe it's because of the scriptwriting in these moments...I don't actually know anymore.
The Last Thing He Wanted does use some interesting lighting at various times. There are many scenes that are filmed at night, or in dark rooms. Though the majority of the film isn't necessarily "dark", there are certain scenes where this is prevalent. There are also a number of moments throughout the film where red or orange hues are used. This use of lighting reinforces the noir-style vibes of the film, and certainly makes for some interesting visuals. However, they don't quite make up for the audience's disorientation throughout.
To this movie's credit, there are a few twists - some got me, some didn't. I won't go into any more detail on these because:
a) I wouldn't want to spoil them for you,
b) I only have half of the information...but know enough to appreciate the twistiness.
For a final nit-picky point, I'd like to address the fact that the bulk of this film seems to be set in 1984, with some scenes occurring at other points in the 1980s, like 1982. Be that as it may, I did not glimpse a single perm. Not one. I get it, not everyone rocked a perm 35 years ago, however I thought it might be realistic to include one somewhere. Or, at the very least, some hair with a bit of volume. All of the characters had very reasonable, anti-80s haircuts, and this seems like a huge missed opportunity.
This could have been a great film, had it not been for the confusing delivery of the central plot-points. I'm well aware of the fact that The Last Thing He Wanted may make perfect sense after your 17th view, but I cannot be bothered going through it twice, let alone until I understand it. The actors do a fine job, and the twists are good. The film deserves more than 6%, but I certainly won't be recommending it to anyone, any time soon.