The Last Shift

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
The Last Shift Movie Poster Image
Bittersweet, truthful indie drama about small towns, racism.
  • R
  • 2020
  • 90 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Demonstrates a subtle, harmful form of racism in showing how a White man who isn't obviously intolerant still doesn't believe in White privilege or systemic racism (and it isn't clear that he ever changes his thinking on the subject). Realistically portrays struggles of small-town lives (both Black and White), encouraging empathy from viewers.

Positive Role Models

Includes honest, thoughtful portrayals of people of color. Main character Jevon, who was formerly incarcerated, is very smart and questions the system. He's ultimately shown getting a good job and starting to write again, suggesting a hopeful future. Stanley's words and actions reveal that he doesn't believe in White privilege or systemic racism, a problematic opinion that it isn't clear he ever changes.

Violence

Main character is mugged and hit on the back of the head by an unseen assailant; he passes out and wakes up on the ground. Mild bloody wounds shown. Discussion of a racially motivated murder. Comical traffic-related accident. Arguing.

Sex
Language

Very strong language includes uses of "f--k," "motherf----r," "s--t," "bulls--t," "a--hole," "bitch," "damn," "goddamn," "hell," "crap," "d--k," "piss," "pr--k," "retard," "frickin'," and "Jesus" (as an exclamation). Middle-finger gestures.

Consumerism

Mentions of Mountain Dew, Sierra Mist, and Pepsi. Dick's Sporting Goods gift card shown.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A carload of teens appears to have been drinking (a character says that they "smell of hooch"). A main character smokes pot in one scene. Reference to "chronic." Main characters smoke cigarettes. Minor character appears to be smoking meth (with a glass pipe). Minor character is drunk and passes out in the restaurant drive-through.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Last Shift is a drama about a man (Richard Jenkins) who's leaving his graveyard shift job at a fast-food restaurant after 38 years and must train his young replacement (Shane Paul McGhie). It tackles many social issues, including systemic racism (the main White character doesn't believe it exists). Expect lots of strong language, including "f--k," "s--t," and more. A character is mugged, whacked on the back of the head, and knocked unconscious (mild bloody wounds are shown). There's discussion of a racially motivated murder, arguing, and a comical traffic-related accident. A main character smokes pot, and both main characters smoke cigarettes on more than one occasion. A carload of teen boys is said to be drunk (they "smell of hooch"). A man smokes what appears to be meth (in a glass pipe). Minor characters appear drunk. Focusing on character development, the film realistically portrays the struggles of small-town lives, encouraging empathy from viewers.

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What's the story?

In THE LAST SHIFT, Stanley (Richard Jenkins) has proudly worked at Oscar's Chicken and Fish for 38 years, on the graveyard shift, in the small town of Albion, Michigan. Now he's decided to retire and move to Florida, where he plans to take care of his ailing mother. Before he can collect his final paycheck, he must train his replacement, Jevon (Shane Paul McGhie). Jevon -- who was recently paroled from prison -- really wants to pursue a writing career but must work as a condition of his parole and to help his girlfriend (Birgundi Baker) take care of their young son. During the night, Stanley and Jevon make sandwiches, clean, and talk. One night their conversation turns to a racially motivated murder that occurred years ago at Stanley's high school, and tempers flare. When Stanley later suffers some bad luck, he must make a hard decision that may affect Jevon, too.

Is it any good?

Despite some unexpected character choices and other small stumbles, this indie drama gets by on great performances, bittersweet humor, and many snapshots of heartbreaking truths. While The Last Shift vividly and realistically captures small-town life and its economic and social struggles, Stanley's character raises some questions. His 38 years seem to have happened in a void; other than his memories of high school, there's nothing in the movie about his actual life outside the restaurant. Nevertheless, Jenkins offers a deeply rich performance, full of wheezes and pains, giving Stanley an inner life that fills in some of the blanks. McGhie is excellent, too, holding his own with the veteran character actor.

In dealing with issues of race and racism, The Last Shift doesn't go very deep or very far, but it still covers its themes thoughtfully. Stanley clearly respects his boss, Shazz (a terrific Da'Vine Joy Randolph), and he likes Jevon, but he doesn't at all understand White privilege or systemic racism. A scene in which he deals with police after a traffic incident clearly underlines this, and nothing in the movie clearly indicates that Stanley ever changes his problematic way of thinking. Writer-director Andrew Cohn lays out most of the discord through the movie's dialogue, but it never feels preachy or overwritten. A last encounter between Stanley and Jevon on a bus near the end feels somehow unsatisfying but is perhaps realistic -- and then a final upbeat coda for Jevon feels satisfying and yet somehow false.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about The Last Shift's portrayal of alcohol, smoking, and drug use. Is substance use glamorized? Are there consequences? Why does that matter?

  • What is the movie saying about racism? Why do you think Stanley doesn't believe that White privilege or systemic racism exist? Do you think anything could change his mind? 

  • Can people make a good living in a minimum wage job? Why do you think the minimum wage is so low? How does that impact inequity in the United States?

  • Concerning the murder that took place during their high school years: Should Stanley and Dale have done something more? What could they have done?

Movie details

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