The Last Thing He Wanted (2020) is an American drama that was released earlier this year on Netflix, adapted from a novel of the same title by Joan Didion. Directed by Dee Rees (Mudbound), this film stars Anne Hathaway, Ben Affleck, Rosie Perez and Willem Dafoe. A veteran D.C. journalist loses the thread of her own narrative when a guilt-propelled errand for her father thrusts her from byline to unwilling subject in the very story she’s trying to break.
The actors here try to do as much as they can with the material that they are given. Some of them go overboard with their performance, particularly Willem Dafoe who just cannot be taken seriously here, but I enjoyed the leading female performances of both Anne Hathaway and Rosie Perez. Even if the editing and script does not help the development of the character, their performances have a balance of layers and they try to make the film as captivating as they can.
Unfortunately though, this is just a hard film to get through. There is almost no real balance of tone as this film goes for so many different storylines and themes. It is way too overdramatic, to the point where some scenes play out as a comedy rather than the drama it is clearly going for. As I pointed out, Willem Dafoe is trying to give a dark performance here and yet it is way too over the top and instead comes off as ridiculous and annoying.
There are many plot points in this film, and some of them have strong ideas that I am sure works well in a novel format. One storyline idea that I particularly liked was the relationship between Anne Hathaway’s character, Elena, and her daughter. The interactions between the two take place over the phone and have a great manner of developing and talking about the struggles that parents face working away from their family. This could have been done extremely well, but instead this plot is rushed and only shown in fleeting moments to get to the rest of the narrative as soon as possible.
The main issue with this film is the script and what message the filmmakers wanted to say. For a large chunk of the film, I had no idea what was going on or what certain characters were doing. Relationships between characters become muddled, unsure who likes who and where everyone is. There are so many locations for this film and yet none of them stick, there are no real stand out scenes and they all just blur into one very underwhelming story with a messy plot and an even messier script.
There is no care or love put into these characters to give them any real arc or sense of journey. I had a major disconnection from every single character, and not in a good way. They try to show Hathaway’s Elena as a character with a lot going on, with her father and her job and just being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but I had no idea how I was meant to feel for her. Ben Affleck is in this movie, but I still have no idea what his character is there for or why he has absolutely no personality here.
This is not even a film where the creative direction or cinematography can save it, as this is just a boringly edited and shot film alongside being narratively bad. Whilst I do not need every film to look visually beautiful or to leave me impressed by the filmmaking, the film just looks dull and muddy in its cinematography and editing, with so many cuts from scene to scene with no real connection between them. The editing and pacing certainly didn’t help tie the narrative somewhat together.
Whilst this may be the best time to dig through Netflix and find some things to watch, I would still not recommend this film to you. It has been a while since I have struggled to even watch the entirety of a new release, and yet I have a feeling that a cinema viewing may have left me leaving my seat. This is a sad misstep for Dee Rees and I hope this one remains unseen for a lot of people, as she has proven to be better than this.
Have you had the chance to see The Last Thing He Wanted, or have you only read the mainly negative reviews already? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section and let’s have a discussion.