“How we need another soul to cling to,” wrote Sylvia Plath, who knew a thing or two about loneliness and despair. And in Tim Rouhana’s drama One Last Thing, dentist Dylan Derringer (Wendell Piece) goes to great lengths to find and connect with a daughter he has never met. An intimate ensemble piece, One Last Thing is one of those films that you really want to like. Yet, in trying to achieve sincerity/verisimilitude, the film overreaches and strays into Hallmark, tear-jerker territory wherein all conflicts are resolved in a fairy-tale ending.
Wendell Pierce’s schlubby, retiring dentist Dylan Derringer is the flip-side to Pierce’s masterful portrayal of cigar-smoking, hard-drinking homicide Bunk Moreland in the genre-defining police series The Wire. Living in suburban Orlando, Dylan seems to be sleepwalking through life until a private investigator brings him a photo of a young woman whom he believes to be his daughter. The child of substance abusing ex-girlfriend who disappeared from his life some twenty years earlier, Dylan is both overjoyed and overwhelmed to learn of this news. Employing investigative skills that would make Bunk proud, Dylan tracks his daughter Lucy (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) to New York City. He shadows her for a few days, before building up the courage to introduce himself. In one of the film’s better sequences, Dylan’s well-rehearsed “I am your father” speech is smartly upended by the suspicious Lucy in the middle of a busy coffee shop.
“…shadows her for a few days, before building up the courage to introduce himself.”
Once a fragile peace is established, Dylan and Lucy begin building a nascent father-daughter relationship. Much of this bonding is done via letters which are read in voice-over by each respective author. And, while this plot device may help advance the narrative, it was cloying/repetitive in the extreme.
All is going swimmingly until — straight out of a Merchant-Ivory period piece — Lucy begins coughing blood into a handkerchief, thus revealing that she is suffering from a rare kidney disease. With little surprise, Dylan volunteers to donate one of his own kidneys to Lucy, despite the protestations of his hygienist/paramore Jamie. Not one but two expected speed bumps occur. Both are resolved in quick succession leading to a happy conclusion on Christmas eve, no less.
“…building a nascent father-daughter relationship. Much of this bonding is done via letters…”
On the surface, One Last Thing is well shot, with excellent art direction and competent editing. Furthermore, both the Jurnee Smollett-Bell (probably best known for her early role in Eve’s Bayou) are well cast by The Wire’s Alexa L. Fogel. Thus, it was incredibly frustrating to see these two talented actors wrestle with a script where the resolution to every conflict — regardless of how high the stakes — was never in the slightest doubt. This is particularly the case for Pierce, whose ability to balance moral ambiguity in The Wire was phenomenal to watch over five taut seasons. One Last Thing feels like a series of missed opportunities. Had writer/director Rouhana crafted a storyline that was more messy with the peaks and valleys of real life, it would have more for a better that was far more interesting and engaging. Instead, he goes for the easy bank shot, tying everything up in a nice neat bow. Thank the heavens that all five seasons of The Wire are now available on Amazon Prime, just what the witch doctor ordered to cleanse one’s cinematic palette.
One Last Thing (2017) Written and Directed by Tim Rouhana. Starring Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Wendell Pierce, and Joanne Froggatt.
6 out of 10 stars