Brendan Da Costa

The Last Thing He Wanted (2020) Poster

Title: The Last Thing He Wanted


Directed by: Dee Rees


Written by: Marco Villalobos & Dee Rees


Starring: Anne Hathaway, Ben Affleck, Rose Perez, Willem Dafoe, Edi Gathegi, Mel Rodriguez, Onata Aprile & Toby Jones


Produced by: Cassian Elwes, Dee Rees & Luillo Ruiz

“Huh?”

Reel Talk - The Last Thing He Wanted (2020)

December 12, 2021
by Brendan Da Costa

The Last Thing He Wanted has no idea what it wants to be and we, as the audience, have no idea what it’s about… who the hell is the “He” from the title anyway? Director Dee Rees can’t make sense of writer Marco Villalobos’ muddled script and, in turn, passes her confusion on to her cast. I wish there was something good to say but…

 

This is the part of the review where there would normally be a short, one-to-two sentence synopsis of the film’s premise meant to drum up interest in the larger plot but, admittedly, I have no idea what this movie is about so I’ll just say that The Last Thing He Wanted is the screen adaptation of Joan Didion’s 1996 novel of the same name.

 

We’ll begin with the worst. The so-called “script.”

“[…] I have no idea what this movie is about so…”

No one must have informed Villalobos that novels and films are different storytelling media—what works on the page might not necessarily work on the screen and vice versa. Novels offer the writer more space to work with than the screen does. You can do away with the three-act structure, tack on subplots like a teenager with a BeDazzler, stroll through metaphors and character psychology and have some room left over for lurid descriptions—just ask J. R. R. Tolkien. But the screen is less forgiving. It demands constant attention, requiring every frame to advance the central action.

Perhaps, if the acting or cinematography were any good then you may be inclined to forgive a muddled plot with a complete lack of focus but they aren’t and you can’t. As bad as the story-writing aspect of the script is, the worst part of it is actually the dialogue. Every character speaks in strange metaphor, laced with obscure references and prattles it off faster than editor Mako Kamitsuna can switch to the next scene. Dialogue is usually a tool used to advance the plot… not bury its already rotting corpse six feet under. Suffice to say, the script needed to be pared down, rewritten, edited, edited again and then burned and have its ashes scattered to the four corners of the world.

 

Dee Rees’ direction—if she had any—isn’t much better. From a directorial standpoint, all that I can really say is that this film is confused. Set and costume design are inconsistent.

When they do manage to land on an aesthetic, it feels like a weird fantasy version of the past. Rees has a record of extracting strong performances from her cast so how she manages to make hams of proven thespians like Anne Hathaway, Ben Affleck and William Dafoe shall remain a mystery. Hathaway’s performance feels forced—like someone dragged onto the set at gunpoint—but it’s hard to blame her for showing the strain of carrying this terrible script.

 

Again, normally, I would look to the score, the editing, the sound design or some other technical or artistic aspect of a film to point out a job well done but there just isn’t anything here to talk about. Hopefully, everyone involved in this project learned something about the importance of a good script as a foundation for your film and the need for clear direction to get everyone on the same page.