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Frisco Del Rosario writes about chess960, women's basketball, minor league baseball, unsupported collectible card games, lettering in comic books, and Golden Age movies

The Last DJs 09/06/2017

I watched a movie in which women aged 80 and 30 — who don’t get along at first because the senior lady is an imperious battleaxe — discover a shared fondness for vinyl, and especially for freeform radio.

The young woman shares the call sign for freeform station in town, and in a beat, the old woman is hauling her record library to the station. There she talks her way into the drivetime DJ job, because she’s got technical experience with radio plus a wide-ranging knowledge of music, and the awareness that DJs used to build blocks of songs that fit together, like a thoughtful mixtape. Naturally in a movie like this, the soundtrack is appropriately diverse. (The only artist I recognized was The Kinks, and it was a song I didn’t know.)

If that were all this movie was about, it might’ve been pretty good, though how do you wring two hours from that — more likely, it’s a “WKRP in Cincinnati” episode in which Bailey meets a disagreeable old woman in a coffee shop, and so forth.

Unfortunately for “The Last Word” — starring Shirley MacLaine as the old and Amanda Seyfried as the young — that excellent 25 minutes was a small portion of two hours that I wager critics hated.

It was built by formula: Disagreeable old lady meets callow young lady meets precocious orphan, no one gets along initially but inevitably form a familial bond.

It was most predictable, because you know the steps in that formula, and the title and the premise give away the ending — the old lady has to die at the end after repairing burned bridges, settling old accounts, and assisting the young woman and the orphaned girl in growing up.

The framework is that Shirley MacLaine gets the idea that she wants Amanda Seyfried, who writes obituaries for the local paper, to write her obit in advance. MacLaine explains that every well-crafted obituary contains some wild card remembrance which made the deceased special (which turns out to be ‘retired advertising executive becomes disc jockey at 81′). Seyfried has trouble writing the boilerplate about MacLaine’s colleagues and loved ones because hated her. You know how it works: the movie gradually makes her less and less hated until Seyfried ultimately delivers a heartfelt, teary-eyed eulogy at the end.\\\

The reason I’m writing about this crappy — just checked; 35% by critics at Rotten Tomatoes — movie that we’ve all seen before in one form or another (probably several times until we’re fed up with the predictability) was the 25 minutes about genuine radio programming by human DJs, not demographic-driven algorithm. The movie has a sincere love for eclectic music broadcast on 500-watt stations.

Before “The Last Word”, the piece of modern popular culture that best addressed the death of good radio was Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ “The Last DJ”, a concept album tied together by Tom’s disillusion with the business. Of course, you don’t hear “The Last DJ” on the radio, which is the whole bloody point.

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