The Last Movie Star (2017) – A Review


A review of the 2017 drama The Last Movie Star, starring Burt Reynolds, Ariel Winter, Clark Duke & Chevy Chase. Reynolds plays an aging star who reflects on his life at a shoddy film festival. One of Reynolds’ last films


Vic Edwards (Burt Reynolds) is an aging movie star. He’s old, alone, tired and coming to grips that his best years are behind him. One day he gets an invitation to attend a film festival in Nashville that will be honoring him and who want to give him a lifetime achievement award. He’s apprehensive at first, but the idea of being schmoozed again like the star he was is too good an offer to pass up.

He travels to Nashville and discovers this “film festival” isn’t as glamorous as what he envisioned. It’s been organized by some young fans who are showing his films in a bar, Vic has to stay in a rundown motel and Lil (Ariel Winter), the assistant who’s been assigned to him, doesn’t exactly have a pleasant, professional demeanor or has any idea who he is.

Furious and feeling he was lied to, he orders Lil to take him back to the airport. He’s ready to put an end to this trip, until he abruptly decides to take a road trip down memory lane and tries to make peace with regrets from his past.

Everytime I watch a Burt Reynolds film I always end up reminding myself just how big a star he was. In the 1970s there was no more popular star than Reynolds. He was athletic, sexy, funny, charming, had a self-deprecating sense of humor. Both men and women loved him and his famous mustache. 

Burt-Reynolds-Star-Hollywood-Walk-of-Fame-1978Playing college football, his early work as a stuntman, moving into television acting work in westerns and then headlining in films, Reynolds stardom exploded in the 1970s. Reynolds starred in a series of films, some being the most popular of the decade and would become ‘classics’ (Deliverance, The Longest Yard, Smokey and the Bandit).

During his time as a box office king he joked, “I probably could do a film about the sewer system in Moscow and make it commercial”.

Away from movie screens, fans felt they knew Reynolds and his laid back, good old boy personality. He was a prominent figure on talk shows and would always make entertaining appearances. Stories of his romantic life and his relationships with high profile women filled gossip magazines. Not to mention his famous pinup pose in Cosmopolitan that might’ve been silly, but became an iconic image. He was unquestionably A MOVIE STAR!

By the early 1980s, his star began to fade. Some poor film choices and a nasty and expensive divorce from Loni Anderson, left the once mighty ‘Burt Reynolds: The Man Who Ruled Hollywood’ into a distant figure.

There were kind of four general stages of Reynolds career – his early upcoming years, his box office stardom reign, his middle-aged years when he focused more on television and found some success (Evening Shade, Win Lose or Draw). Then came his elder ‘comeback’ role in Boogie Nights, which garnered him critical praise. Momentarily it seemed like a rejuvenated second act in film was going to happen for Reynolds. However, it never did.

He mainly made brief appearances in subpar, forgettable films. Due to numerous medical conditions, he experienced a dramatic physical decline and his financial problems would make headlines. It was a distressing period for Reynolds, leading up to his death on September 6, 2018.

Burt-Reynolds-Last-Movie-Star-2017-life-careerReynolds rise and fall is a fascinating Hollywood career to look at. Writer/director Adam Rifkin is clearly a big fan of Burt’s and tailor made the script of The Last Movie Star specifically for him. The film is a vehicle for Reynolds the actor and man, much the same way The Wrestler was a perfect fit for Mickey Rourke.

The casting of Reynolds in The Last Movie Star is the lynchpin to the whole film. Rifkin had said had Reynolds refused to do the film, he would never have made it with anyone else.

In The Last Movie Star Reynolds might be playing the fictional ‘Vic Edwards’, but it’s so close to us watching the real man, the film becomes almost autobiographical. Reynolds brings his real life persona, career and personal troubles into the role of Vic Edwards. The choices he made in his career and personal life, the regrets he has, the heights of fame he had reached and then being labeled a ‘has been’, trying to accept his mistakes and recognize his own mortality are all things ‘Vic Edwards’ faces.

It’s impossible to not watch The Last Movie Star and not view Edwards as a stand-in for Reynolds himself.

Burt-Reynolds-in-The-Last-Movie-Star-2017-biography-dramaThe film opens with an instantly depressing sequence of Edwards having to put his old beloved dog to sleep. Vic continues through what seems like an ordinary day, shuffling through a grocery store and returning to his expansive home, eating a TV dinner alone.

Burt’s frail appearance is startling to see. He no longer resembles the ‘Movie Star Burt’. Now, old, thin, walking with a cane, hunched over, it’s certainly sad to see him like this. It’s a far away lifestyle of what ‘Vic The Movie Star’ had lived years ago.

An invitation to the ‘International Nashville Film Festival’ arrives, where he is the years honoree and will be awarded a lifetime achievement award. Vic is reluctant, but with some convincing by his friend Sonny (Chevy Chase) and learning past honorees were Jack Nicholson, Robert DeNiro and Clint Eastwood. Vic agrees to go. Heck, if this award was good enough for them, it should be good enough for Vic.

Chevy-Chase-Burt-Reynolds-The-Last-Movie-Star-2017Speaking of Chase’s small role as Edwards’ friend, it’s another bit of excellent casting, where real life seeps into the film. Chase had a similar career trajectory of high highs and a downward spiral as Reynolds had. Not knowing much about Chase’s character other than his name is ‘Sonny’, I took away he was another aging star, who could’ve been playing a version of himself. 

Arriving in Nashville, Vic immediately feels like he made a mistake. Lil, who is supposed to drive him and take care of his needs, is not too polite or respectful. She doesn’t even know whow Vic is! Rather than being starstruck, she’s distratcted by a lousy guy she’s been hooked up with. While Shane (Ellar Coltrane) is pining for her, Lil continues to be in this unhealthy relationship where she’s being treated badly. Shane would treat her a whole heck of a lot better than that guy! 

Things get worse for Vic when he discovers his accommodations are anything but comfortable and the festival is not exactly an expensive big black tie event. There’s no big theater, no fancy red carpet, no lines of reporters. The festival is just a rundown bar with a bunch of twenty-somethings drinking beer and who are fans of Vic Edwards.

The-Last-Movie-Star-2017-Ellar-Coltrane-Burt-Reynolds-Clark-DukeThis is the funniest portion of the film. Watching Vic realize what he’s just walked into and seeing him try to look past at what Doug (Clark Duke), the organizer of the festival and all these kids’ idea of the ‘star treatment’ is yields the most laughs. Vic’s honorary chair is an easy chair.

Despite their enthusiastic sincerity of seeing their big-screen hero actually show up to their festival (Vic later learns Nicholson, DeNiro and Eastwood never answered their letters), their admiration for him doesn’t touch Vic in anyway. It’s both funny and sweet of the groups excitement to see their hero. It’s clear it’s a heartfelt honor from this group of his fans, but you also feel sympathetic for Vic at his realization this lifetime achievement award wasn’t exactly what he envisioned. 

Vic doesn’t feel honored by this in anyway. Feeling humiliated, he gets drunk, angrily insults them and walks out of the festival. Reynolds is really good with embarrassed pain on his face and lashing out against the room. It’s painful and uncomfortable to watch him offend them with some pretty deep cuts, calling them “a bunch of losers watching movies in their basement”.

The-Last-Movie-Star-2017-Burt-Reynolds-comedy-drama-Adam-RifkinOrdering Lil to take him back to the airport, he sees a sign for Knoxville. It’s then he gets the urge of visiting some places from his past. Vic forces Lil to take him on a “nostalgia trip”. He visits his childhood home and the stadium he played college football at. It was a time of his life that had given him more satisfaction than any acting he would later do. 

He finally pays a visits his first wife, the one woman he feels loved him for who he truly was. When fame came along he left her, but he has always pondered the path his life might’ve taken had he not diverged from her.

Burt-Reynolds-drama-The-Last-Movie-Star-2017The Last Movie Star is a very simple film, but is an effective emotional journey we watch Vic Edwards take. Reynolds carries a sadness and bitterness through the film that fans are not accustomed to seeing from him – and he’s really quite good in it!

Some of the scenes I felt got a bit too heavy handed with some of the sentimentality and the story takes a relatively conventional route. Vic gets to quietly reflect on his past, taking in memories, Lil and him share deep conversations, they start to gain an understanding with one another and a connection develops.

The film doesn’t take any surprise turns, but it does a very good job of making you care for this character and hoping he can find the peace he needs.

The film consistently reminds us of the young Burt by using film clips of Reynolds from his earlier films, which helps to reinforce the dramatic change that has taken place for him. There are two instances when  Burt is inserted into scenes from Smokey and the Bandit and Deliverance and he talks and acts with his younger self.

The-Last-Movie-Star-2017-Burt-Reynolds-young-old-Smokey-and-BanditThese scenes are somewhat gimmicky, but they do highlight the contrast of seeing the elderly, sick Burt next to the healthy young one side by side. Immediately it makes you conscious of the passage of time and growing older. At times Reynolds seems so frail and weak you genuinely worry for his health. Watching the film after Reynold’s death and now knowing it was one of his last films makes it all the more impactful.

Also seeing him interact with his former Bandit persona just reinforces the fact The Last Movie Star is more than just a fictionalized story and it is not necessarily depicting Reynolds’ own real life story, but something extremely close to it. Reynolds playing this role of essentially himself, anchors the poignancy of the entire film. It not only plays on a universal story of aging and having regrets, but also acts as something of a cinematic eulogy for Reynolds himself. I found myself enjoying the film much more than I expected.

Burt-Reynolds-Ariel-Winter-The-Last-Movie-Star-2017Reynolds is clearly the focus, so unfortunately, the younger characters don’t get fleshed out as much as they could have. We only know Doug and his friends are Vic Edwards fans, but nothing more than that.

I thought it would have been nice while they’re waiting for Vic to finish his road trip and hopefully return to their festival, to have learned why this old movie star had gained their admiration. Vic admits he spent his career doing more “actiony” films rather than the character driven ones he first began with and believes he made a lot of “bad choices”. Despite him dismissing those films, they have indeed clearly left a positive impression on these fans.  

Ariel-Winter-Burt-Reynolds-The-Last-Movie-Star-2017We never learn why exactly Doug and his friends admire Vic so much. Yes, he’s a movie star, but what is it about Vic and the movies he starred in that have so much meaning for them and they felt compelled to organize a festival around them and honor him. I think one scene of getting a bit more insight into their reverence for Vic would have been nice, rather than them just coming off as general fanboys.

Lil is much more rounded, but not a particularly interesting character. It’s basically she thinks of herself as an artist and continues to be involved with this guy who treats her badly. Her time with Vic is meant to to inspire her to pursue her art and leave this bad guy behind and hook up with Shane, the nicer one who clearly likes her. 

It’s not a very a creative or complex side of the film. Winter is fine, but it’s rather a stale kind of character and subplot. I’ve noticed a trend with movies with stories about meeting ‘a famous person’. There’s this overused narrative of an ‘ordinary person’ spending time with them and taking a lesson away that changes their life. I’m thinking of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood and My Dinner with Hervé specifically. The Last Movie Star follows a similar blueprint. 

Lil’s story is most certainly secondary in the grand scheme of the movie and it’s nothing special or unique. It is not the part you’ll remember from The Last Movie Star.

It’s heartfelt story with some nice quiet scenes between Vic and Lil. He gets to meet some fans who still hold him in high regard and he finds some solace with his first wife, the one woman who he knows cared for him. Reynolds is good throughout. It’s a very touching performance. 

Burt-Reynolds-drama-The-Last-Movie-Star-2017-final-filmThis is Reynolds’ film all the way. I suspect fans of Reynolds who grew up watching him and remembers when he was the toast of Hollywood, the film will hit harder for. Obviously, seeing a hero from your youth in a more a fragile way will easily pack an emotional punch. But it’s a role that you’ll be happy to see Reynolds took on.

It’s not a glamorous role for sure! It’s a sad portrait of a man and there’s not a lot of fun in the story. At times it is very depressing, but it is touching and Reynolds really embraces the role. Perhaps, playing it helped him confront some of his own personal demons he had within himself.  

The Last Movie Star was not technically his final onscreen performance, however, it’s a fitting closure to Reynolds’ movie career.

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