The Last Kiss
Director : Tony Goldwyn
Screenplay : Paul Haggis (based on the film L’ultimo bacio written by Gabriele Muccino)
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2006
Stars : Zach Braff (Michael), Jacinda Barrett (Jenna), Casey Affleck (Chris), Rachel Bilson (Kim), Blythe Danner (Anna), Tom Wilkinson (Stephen), Michael Weston (Izzy), Eric Christian Olsen (Kenny), Marley Shelton (Arianna), Lauren Lee Smith (Lisa), Harold Ramis (Professor Bowler), David Haydyn Jones (Mark)
The Last Kiss is a remake of a 2001 Italian film of the same title by writer/director Gabriele Muccino, who specializes in domestic melodrama (he was recently imported to the U.S. to direct The Pursuit of Happyness starring Will Smith). Screenwriter Paul Haggis (Crash, Million Dollar Baby) has maintained Muccino’s story with only minor alterations, although he does appear to have given the ending a slightly more ambiguous tone. Muccino’s film ended with order restored, while The Last Kiss suggests hope for restoration, but no absolute guarantee.
For many reasons, The Last Kiss will be compared to Garden State (2004), primarily because of the presence of Zack Braff playing a guy in his twenties who is unsure of his future (it also includes a very Garden State-ish soundtrack with songs by Coldplay and Turin Brakes). However, Braff’s character in The Last Kiss is older, more ambivalent, and much more difficult to like, and the film itself is more downbeat; instead of quirky attraction being a means to reconciliation with one’s demons, it is the pathway to misery. Actor-turned-director Tony Goldwyn also clearly had Garden State on the mind, as he tries to emulate Braff’s lovely widescreen compositions and delicate balance between comedy and pathos. It doesn’t work as well here, primarily because the story is much darker and the characters more muddled.
The story focuses on four guys who have best friends for years. Each represents a different facet of young male syndrome, otherwise known as arrested development. Braff’s Michael is a 29-year-old architect whose longtime girlfriend Jenna (Jacinda Barrett) is two months pregnant. He has so far resisted marriage, and when Jenna suggests that they think about buying a house together, he fears that such a move would be too “final.” Michael is afraid of losing spontaneity in his life; he worries that there will be no more surprises. He finds one, though, in the form of Kim (Rachel Bilson, The O.C.), a bubbly coed he meets at a wedding and ill-advisedly allows to seduce him by appealing to his desire to be young and free.
Despite her role as schoolgirl temptress, Kim turns out to be the film’s most sympathetic character because she is the most genuine; she comes across as too forward and needy, but she doesn’t try to hide it behind wafer-thin facades of stability and maturity like the other characters. Even Jenna, who seems so grounded, is hiding a deep insecurity behind her inflated sense of self-assuredness (she tells her mother at one point that she had Michael figured out in 30 minutes, but she continually misses his forlorn looks and elusive disinterest in their life together).
Michael’s friends include Izzy (Michael Weson, who many will remember as the “Stories From the Force” cop in Garden State), who is more than a little unhinged by the recent end of a long-term relationship and now wants to take off for South America. He tries to get their friend Kenny (Eric Christian Olsen, a long way from his Jim Carrey impression in Dumb and Dumberer) to go, but Kenny is too happily enmeshed in meaningless sexual relationships. The most genuine of the foursome is Casey Affleck’s Chris, a sensitive guy who is feeling increasingly trapped in a marriage to an angry woman (Lauren Lee Smith) who blames him for everything.
The story is given some generational perspective by another subplot involving Jenna’s parents (Tom Wilkinson and Blythe Danner), who are dealing with their own marital problems. This aspect of the story gives some context to the growing pains of the twenty-somethings (essentially showing that growing up never really ends), but it is also one of the weakest because the characters are terribly ill-defined. Wilkinson’s Stephen is at first portrayed as an emotionless dullard who doesn’t seem to care at all that his wife is miserable, but then makes an about face and is tasked with delivering the film’s uplifting mantra at the end about how it doesn’t matter if you love someone unless you show that person; in other words, the film’s philosophical heart has been ripped directly from Extreme’s early-’90s acoustic ballad “More Than Words.”
Despite its shortcomings, The Last Kiss provides some notable food for thought, and it will likely register with the same age demographic that its characters embody. It questions the nature of happiness and contentment, but never to a degree that it threatens to unbalance any cherished and long-standing ideals. At one point, Kim tells Michael that people move too fast these days, which is why the fabled “mid-life crisis” has begun hitting people deeper and deeper in their youth (Michael being the prime example). While 40 or 50 used to be the crisis moment, now it’s 30, which seems to suggest increasing near-sightedness and narcissism, rather than the speed of life. However, it is also unfair to suggest that characters of any age haven’t “earned” a crisis because such a view denies the relative importance of any stage of life. If the characters in The Last Kiss come across as a bit too whiny, it’s not because they’re too young, but rather because they’re too self-inflated.
Copyright ©2006 James Kendrick
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