By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
Currently playing in New York at the Angelika Film Center & CMX, and opening on April 26 in Los Angeles, is the new bold and provocative film by writer/director Jeff Lipsky. In 2015, I first discovered the work of Jeff Lipsky when a studio representative reached out to me for coverage of his latest film Mad Women. I also had the pleasure of interviewing the filmmaker at the time and was excited to discover that he was mentored by the late, great indie godfather John Cassavetes. As I was impressed with some of Lipsky’s films at the time, I was happy to review his latest film, The Last.
Much like his previous work, The Last takes a very intimate approach to the presentation of its story and characters with the focus directly on the characters and their emotions. As usual, Lipsky handles a very difficult and controversial subject. The result is a shocking, powerful, and emotional movie with excellent performances by its cast.
The Last focuses on an American Jewish family where most of the members have much pride and love for their faith and traditions. Josh (AJ Cedeno), a young Modern Orthodox Jewish teacher and his new wife Olivia (Jill Durso) are spending a lovely day at the beach with Josh’s great grandmother Claire (Rebecca Schull). The entire family have always highly regarded Claire as a sweet and loving matriarch. Even Olivia, who is new to the family, shares that same adoration. When Claire decides to reveal that she has become terminally ill, she also decides to reveal a tremendously dark secret from her past which changes the family’s perception of her.
Written and directed by Lipsky, The Last is a highly emotional character study, and one that challenges its audience to think very critically. Lipsky challenges his characters with a horrific truth that changes the very nature of their being. It is truly heavy material that has historical relevance, but remains timely in an age where people are very politically divided.
Driven almost entirely by dialogue, the movie demands that its cast deliver compelling and powerful performances. It is the type of material that might be better suited theater for the theater; yet Lipsky manages to make it work as a movie. Lipsky regular Reed Birney stars as Harry, Josh’s father and husband to Claire’s grandaughter Melody (Julie Fain Lawrence). Birney brings a cynical edge to Harry, but also gives a Harry a lovely vulnerable side. Julie Fain Lawrence gives an emotional and heartbreaking turn as Melody, the family member most in love and in tune with her Jewish faith.
Rebecca Schull gives an outstanding performance as Claire, the headstrong, loving matriarch whose secret paints another disturbing portrait of what she has been capable in her life. Given the complexity of her character, Schull does such an amazing job, that one feels a crazy mix of feelings towards her character. Also solid in their work here are AJ Cedeno and Jill Durson, the married couple who make up the youngest generation of adults in the family.
Though this film isn’t opening everywhere, I am sure it will eventually be available for viewing through some streaming platform. If currently in New York City or if one will be in Los Angeles around April 26, I highly recommend seeking out the tremendous and incredible independent film.