The Last Best Year

  • 1990
  • Movie
  • PG
  • Drama

The star power of Mary Tyler Moore and Bernadette Peters fails to keep this TV movie about the relationship between a dying cancer patient and her shrink from drowning in suds. Jane Murray (Bernadette Peters), an emotionally repressed lapsed Catholic, is a workholic employed by a Chicago travel agency. Her doctor (Brian Bedford) tells her that she has liver...read more

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The star power of Mary Tyler Moore and Bernadette Peters fails to keep this TV movie about the relationship between a dying cancer patient and her shrink from drowning in suds.

Jane Murray (Bernadette Peters), an emotionally repressed lapsed Catholic, is a workholic employed by a Chicago travel agency. Her doctor (Brian Bedford) tells her that she has liver cancer, with maybe six to eight months to live. Before she can tell her married lover Jerry (Kenneth Welsh), he

rudely breaks off their long-standing affair.

Dr. Castle suggests that Jane start seeing psychiatrist Wendy Allen (Mary Tyler Moore). Allen has an unhappy marriage and is saddled with the care of her aging mother (Dorothy McGuire). Wendy is reluctant to take Jane on, since Jane is still traumatized by the death of her father when she was

five. But after a rocky start for both of them, they eventually hit it off.

Jane loosens up and starts developing friendships with neighbors and coworkers. Encouraged by her now-intimate friend Wendy and the travel agency's benevolent president (Lawrence Dane), Jane tries to find the son she had at age eighteen and gave up for adoption through the Mother Superior (Kate

Reid) of a convent. She also looks up her only living relative, Aunt Elizabeth (Carmen Mathews), at her childhood home in Kansas City.

Jane's condition worsens, and she is soon confined to her apartment, where she's taken care of by her aunt and reactivates her Catholicism through Father Finley (Neil Munro). With Jane faltering, Wendy gathers up her friends and they hold a Christmas celebration four weeks early for her. After the

festivities Wendy eases Jane into death while exorcizing her own psychological problems. At the funeral, Jane's son Arthur (David Orth) joins the circle of mourners.

The highly sentimentalized LAST BEST YEAR was first broadcast by ABC on November 4, 1990, to mixed reviews. The film pretty much capped the plethora of disease-of-the-week TV movies and was made before these soppy melodramas started becoming somewhat dominated by a younger generation of actresses.

The script, by producer David W. Rintels (who tackled more politicized material with GIDEON'S TRUMPET, CLARENCE DARROW, SAKHAROV, DAY ONE, and FEAR ON TRIAL), pulls out all the emotional stops--the movie is almost ruthlessly manipulative, which ultimately swamps the earnest, often powerful

performances by a fine cast. Allowing for the abrasive, almost hallucinative jumps in the narrative, the direction by John Erman (veteran of some two dozen TV longforms, including ROOTS, MOVIEOLA, SCARLETT, AN EARLY FROST, and BREATHING LESSONS) is concise, sincere, and largely straightforward.

With their heavyweight experience, both Erman and Rintels--as well as executive producer Victoria Riskin (Rintel's wife and daughter of famed Hollywood screenwriter Robert), who is an LA psychologist on whose experience the film was based--know exactly what they're doing with this kind of

material, and the picture is at least successful in certain secondary elements, especially in its portrayal of female friendships.

The film's difficulties are almost redeemed by the multi-handkerchief performances of the leads. Moore seems perfectly at home in another "serious issue" drama, while Peters delivers another good performance in an overlooked film.

Shot in Canada, the movie is technically superb, including evocative cinematography, sharp production design, and a haunting (if overly nudging at times) score by veteran John Morris. In her autobiography After All, Mary Tyler Moore says the movie was filmed in "too few days" and that "neither of

us [ie. she and Peters] thought much of the production in its on-air form."(Adult situations.)

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  • Released: 1990
  • Rating: PG
  • Review: The star power of Mary Tyler Moore and Bernadette Peters fails to keep this TV movie about the relationship between a dying cancer patient and her shrink from drowning in suds. Jane Murray (Bernadette Peters), an emotionally repressed lapsed Catholic, is… (more)

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