‘First Reformed’ is one of those tough films to describe. It was described by Fandango as a thriller, and I went in with that frame of mind It incites thrill, alright, but in a whole different manner. It’s not a plot driven movie, as it is mostly a character study of Ernst Toller, a pastor of First Reformed Church somewhere in Upstate New York. he presides over one of those small churches that is only alive because of its historical significance. On any given Sunday, there are only a handful of parishioners who go there – most folks go to the mega church down the road. In fact, the same mega church funds First Reformed. I am not going to go over the rest of the plot, as I think it;’s mostly irrelevant. We see Toller spiral out of control because of a set of setbacks, among which he is urinating blood because of cancer, and has gotten involved in the life of two parishioners – a married couple with issues, and bo have they got issues.
The film is best seen through the eyes of observance – of how religion affects and influences people’s lives, of how humans deal with its significance. I have always thought that Ethan Hawke (who plays Toller) a fantastic actor, and he is great here, grunting and cursing and parishioning. It’s his career-best performance. Towards the end, the film turns fantastical and metaphysical, and it feels like you have stumbled upon a whole different movie, but I kept thinking about it, and its not making sense makes all the sense in the world. This film assaults you, and I bet you’ll welcome it.
When I entered the theater showing ‘The Last Word,’ I was surprised to see that I was the one and only person in the movie theater. I got a little scared, as I don’t think that has ever happened to me before. A couple of minutes later a lesbian couple arrived, and I breathed a sigh of relief. “Are we the only ones here,” one of them asked and I said yes, “I mean, who doesn’t like Shirley McLaine,” she said after as I shook her head. “We are a dying breed,” I joked to her as a reply.
Perhaps that’s true, but the real reason probably why folks are not flocking to see the movie is because it’s just not good. It got panned by critics, and they are right – the film is a total waste of McLaine’s time, energy and talent. She tries hard to breathe life into the character of Harriett Laurer, a woman in the 80s who is an unbearable diva who hires the local obituary writer, Anne Sherman (Amanda Seyfried) to overhaul her obituary. It’s a thin premise to starts, and it never gets off the ground. Plus, the Harriett character is written so badly you cannot sympathize with her, though McLaine tries her damnedest to infuse charm, wit, and humanity. It’s a losing battle to start with. And Seyfried – she look stuck in here, like she knows she is in a bad movie, and feels trapped. Plus, she is made to look unattractive here – surely she has an actress ego to make sure she is pretty on screen? I think she met her husband, the great actor Thomas Sadoski (also a great wasted talent here) here so I guess that would be her silver lining here. I wish I could say there was one for me, the moviegoer.
And the lesbian couple? I spoke to them after the show, and they thought it was crap as well, so I am not alone.