In theory, a TV-movie soap opera like The Last to Go should be miserable. It’s the story of a married woman (Cagney & Lacey’s Tyne Daly) whose children grow up and move out and whose husband (The Stepfather’s Terry O’Quinn) abandons her, leaving her dejected until she realizes that she has led a rich, full life. Ooof.
But director John Erman (Who Will Love My Children?) understands that it doesn’t matter whether the details of a script are cliched; the execution of them can redeem the banality. Accordingly, Erman has shot The Last to Go as if no one else had ever made a betrayed-woman movie, and for the most part he dramatizes the crumbling of Daly’s happy domestic life with admirable calm and precision.
There is one major flaw here: Daly gives her usual heroic-woman performance until it comes to the emotional scenes, which she overplays flagrantly, sitting on a stairwell sobbing as if her back were breaking, conveying her frustration by punching the air with her fists, sort of like Arsenio Hall on a crying jag.
But Erman gets a typically intelligent, modest performance from O’Quinn and extracts all the subtlety possible from William Hanley’s script. In particular, the character of Daly and O’Quinn’s son, played by Tim Ransom, is engrossing: At the start of the movie he’s a callow, idealistic youth dreaming of being an actor; by the end he’s a smug, miserable college English professor with little sympathy to spare for his mother. With small, detailed character sketches like this, The Last to Go earns our sympathy. B