Review: The Last Laugh (2019) – Age As A Punchline

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Chevy Chase and Richard Dreyfuss in The Last Laugh

Usually my title’s allude to a theme in the film in question or a quote spoken during it. Here I couldn’t think of a single theme worth embracing because as a piece of dramatic fiction, the Last Laugh is completely devoid of any kind of depth. If anything, it actively attacks the idea of ageing by using it as a joke, by saying ‘well hey, if you can’t laugh at it, it’ll probably kill you’. I find that notion offensive if only because in order to laugh at it, the jokes have to actually be funny and the thought behind them has to at least hide some semblance of meaning . The Last Laugh, more than anything, tries to be relevant at the expense of its audience and anyone with a modicum of taste.

This latest Netflix release tells the story of Al (a barely sentient Chevy Chase), an ex comedy manager as he faces life in a nursing home. When he runs into old friend Buddy (Richard Dreyfuss) at the assisted living centre he is looking at moving to he sees the opportunity to return to what he loved to do and take Buddy on the road, touring comedy venues. Along the way they consider where their lives went and what they want from their final years.

The irony of this Greg Pritikin directed feature is that for a story about getting older, everything here is dated. From the painfully cheap sets to the ‘material’ that permeates Buddy’s so-called act. There isn’t a real moment to be had among all the fake dialogue and manipulative plotting and the whole picture feels like something done on the fly. The few moments of genuine feeling where Chase and Dreyfuss are asked to provide more than staged frivolity are few and far between but when they do arrive, Dreyfuss takes them for everything they’ve got.

His charisma carries him through most of the films pitfalls unscathed. Chase on the other hand relies to heavily on his skill as a comedian and while this may have worked with a sharper script it doesn’t here. Chase coasts through the film, dragging his heels through even his dramatic moments. His feigned emotion is condescending at best, while his comedy is restricted to giving funny looks and bizarre physical comedy like he is a character straight out of a 60s Hanna-Barbera cartoon

A 3rd act twist doesn’t help matters as Pritikin seems to be using it as a way of endearing us to his characters. Surely that is what the rest of the film was supposed to do? Proving meaningless to the overall plot, it only serves to prove that Chase has a serious issue bringing life to anything remotely serious. While we are told that Al and Buddy had lives before this, they had adventures and experiences outside of the confines of the restrictive sets they exist within, you never feel it and that is in part due to Chase never really committing to, anything.

Even the soundtrack is a sickly mix of TV movie sweetness and dreary, you should feel bad now, deep tones. It’s the kind of music you would expect in a Three Stooges movie to accompany these clumsy and zany characters. Problem is this is supposed to be played straight, these people aren’t the jokes the music thinks they are. A tale about two men trying to stay relevant, to keep living despite their age and health, should be uplifting but due to the crass way in which it is handled and the soporific tone of it all there is little to laugh about here. In fact I think the only people having The Last Laugh is Netflix.

TSR

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