Mary Tyler Moore and Bernadette Peters apply their considerable skills to this slow, earnest melodrama. Peters’ doctor (Brian Bedford) tells her she has cancer of the liver; she has six to eight months to live, and he recommends she see a psychiatrist for comfort and advice. Moore is the psychiatrist, one obviously unsuitable for this particular patient, because, as she says to the doctor, ”I’m just not that eager to get involved with people who may die on me.”
Clearly, both of these women have problems to resolve, and The Last Best Year pursues those problems insistently, tastefully, with New Age music murmuring on the soundtrack. Peters proves to be a loner who has never let anyone get close to her; Moore has never come to terms with the death of her father years ago — he had cancer, and her mother (Dorothy McGuire) never let her see or talk to him in the months before his death.
The Last Best Year is useful as a primer on psychobabble. When Peters expresses an understandable reluctance to start psychoanalysis at this point in her life, Bedford yelps, ”She’s denying!” When Moore decides she’ll take Peters as a patient, even though she thinks Peters’ disease will trouble her, she says, ”Maybe this is good for me, this not being in control.” Eventually, both Peters and Moore take control of their lives, and become close friends.
The worst thing about The Last Best Year is that it’s a fantasy about the perfect way to die. Peters’ boss squeezes her hand and gives her unlimited time off, with pay; her secretary becomes her new best pal; she regains her faith in religion. When she was a teenager, we’re told, Peters had a baby whom she gave up for adoption; now she makes contact with the boy’s adoptive parents, who are, of course, wonderful people who’ve raised a wonderful young man.
This soothing TV movie will probably comfort many cancer victims and their families, and its message — that it’s up to you to make your last days meaningful — is undeniable. But for many sufferers, especially those who don’t have the money or the time or the emotional support to achieve the profound satisfaction that Peters’ character manages so quickly and easily, this fairy-tale version of impending death may well seem hollow, perhaps even cruel. C-