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‘The Last Thing He Told Me’ Review: Jennifer Garner’s Forgettable Mystery

Apr 12, 2023


Reese Witherspoon’s production company Hello Sunshine has quite a reputation for adapting best-selling books to both the big and small screen, from Gone Girl to Big Little Lies, Little Fires Everywhere to Where the Crawdads Sing. In the past few months alone, the company has been behind three different book-to-series adaptations, including the Prime Video hit Daisy Jones & the Six and the Kathryn Hahn-led Hulu series Tiny Beautiful Things. Now there’s Apple TV+’s The Last Thing He Told Me, the Jennifer Garner-led thriller based on Laura Dave’s 2021 bestselling novel. Dave’s novel is captivating, at least for its first two acts, and it’s one of those books that’s extremely hard to put down. It makes perfect sense as to why Apple gave the series the greenlight an entire five months before it hit bookshelves.
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The limited series follows Hannah Michaels (Garner), a woodworker living a seemingly near-perfect life in Sausalito, California with her husband Owen (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and her step-daughter Bailey (Angourie Rice). Unfortunately for the Michaels, things take a turn when Owen suddenly vanishes after the tech company he works at becomes the center of a massive embezzlement investigation. With only a mysterious note that reads “Protect Her,” a duffel bag full of $600,000 in cash, and federal agents constantly showing up at her doorstep, Hannah and Bailey set off to Austin, Texas to find out the truth behind Owen’s disappearance and to unlock Bailey’s all but forgotten memories of her childhood and, in particular, one fateful wedding. The more the two learn about Owen and his past, the closer their relationship becomes, whether they like it or not.

Image via Apple TV+

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The Last Thing He Told Me is definitely a faithful adaptation of Dave’s novel, almost to a fault. While some page-to-screen adaptations can bring in new emotions to familiar scenes, that really isn’t the case with this new series. It’s not poorly executed by any means, but it feels almost too straightforward and even a bit generic, as there’s nothing here that we haven’t seen done far better before. Certain conflicts will start to arise only to be seemingly forgotten about the further along we get. They’re not left open-ended or used as a teaser for a potential Season 2, they’re just completely abandoned. By the time everything wraps up, some may ultimately feel a bit disappointed and underwhelmed, especially as the plot twists veer the story closer and closer into the soap-opera territory. The characters themselves are thinly written as well. Hannah is the loving stepmother who is trying almost a little too hard to win over her stepdaughter, while Bailey is every annoyed moody teen archetype that you can think of. We do learn much more about Owen over the course of the series, which brings a lot of likability to the character that is paired perfectly with Coster-Waldau’s charisma.

The cast is where The Last Thing He Told Me’s greatest strengths are. Hannah is a character that feels like it was written for Garner, and she’s expectedly strong. Her role here feels much closer to her characters in Love Simon and Miracles From Heaven than it does to Sydney Bristow of Alias, and it’s this kind of direction that works to the series’ benefit. She serves more as the audience’s point of view as she learns more and more about Owen and Bailey’s past and plays the detective role. However, for an amateur detective, sometimes things become a little too convenient for her. After her scene-stealing roles in The Nice Guys and Mare of Easttown, Rice has become one of the most talented young actresses in the industry and Bailey is one of her biggest roles yet. Despite her character initially seeming shallow, Rice still is able to be the series’ biggest standout. It’s extremely easy to root for her. She serves as the true heart of the story, and Rice elevates the character. Her chemistry with Garner feels authentic, and the two actresses bounce off each other extremely well.

Image via Apple TV+

Coster-Waldau is serviceable in his role but unfortunately goes underused for most of the series. As previously mentioned, he has a lot of charisma, and the entire story hinges on learning more about Owen, yet he is mostly relegated to forgettable flashbacks of him and Garner sipping wine on the patio or snuggling in bed. We rarely get any flashbacks devoted to his relationship with Bailey, which likely would have given the series the extra emotional kick that it needed. As for the rest of the cast, there are no major stand-outs, as even the always reliable Aisha Tyler is sidelined as Hannah’s childhood best friend Jules. There is one particular cameo appearance that will definitely please fans of some of Garner’s past work that proves to be one of the series’ high points.

Another area that works in The Last Thing He Told Me’s favor is its pacing. With only seven episodes that clock in at around 40 minutes each, the series doesn’t waste any time setting things up, and there is rarely a dull or uneventful moment. As imperfect as the series is, there’s nothing overwhelmingly awful about it — it’s entertaining and has plenty of effective cliffhangers that will have viewers eagerly awaiting new episodes.

The Last Thing He Told Me seems perfectly fine with being adequate and nothing more or less. Garner and Rice deliver in the two leading roles, but overall the writing is often holding the series back from achieving its true potential. Those hoping for the next Mare of Easttown should probably adjust their expectations accordingly. There is still plenty to enjoy about The Last Thing He Told Me, but it’s the kind of series that we’ve seen done better time and time again, ultimately resulting in a rather forgettable experience.

Rating: C+

The Last Thing He Told Me premieres on Apple TV+ on April 14.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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