For his first lead role since the 2004 surprise hit “Garden State,” Zach Braff is back with “The Last Kiss,” a melodrama about impending adulthood that is seriously lacking in laughs. Unlike “Garden State,” though, which defined ennui for the post-emo college crowd, this remake of recent Italian film “L’Ultimo Bacio,” was not written or directed by Braff. The movie’s advertising is quick to point out however, in a nod to the unusual success of the “Garden State” soundtrack, that Braff did pick the music for “The Last Kiss” as well.
The movie was written by two-time Oscar winner Paul Haggis, before “Million Dollar Baby” and “Crash” were released. Neither of those Best Picture winners were laugh riots, so that may be one reason that the whole affair is almost devoid of levity. During a bachelor party early in the film, it seems like director Tony Goldwyn (“A Walk on the Moon”) may be leading the cast in a lighthearted direction, but as the plot begins to unfold, a feeling of dread soon permeates the entire movie.
|Out through the in door|
The threat of familial responsibility weighs heavily on Michael (Braff) after his girlfriend Jenna (Jacinda Barrett) becomes pregnant. From his vacant stare in the opening scene, it is clear something is wrong. That familiar territory of the male psyche that was explored so well in “High Fidelity” is also mined in “The Last Kiss,” and it is tricky material to get across. It is pretty hard to feel sorry for a young, good-looking guy with a great job and a bright, attractive wife.
A kind of inner panic sets in, and when a college student ten years his junior comes on strong, Michael sees only opportunity, and cannot quite grasp the consequences of his pursuing her. He just knows his ego is being massaged, and Kim (Rachel Bilson) represents not having to narrow his choice to only one woman just yet. Meanwhile, his three best friends are in various stages of their own early-30s life crises.
The age at which people have to “grow up and fly straight” is ever-increasing these days, to which I can well attest personally. “The Last Kiss” asks us to ponder the reasons behind prolonged adolescence and a lack of commitment, of which so many seem to go unexplained. It is unusual for a Hollywood movie to tackle this subject at all, especially when its lead character is getting his hands this dirty.
Haggis throws in another parallel with Jenna’s parents, who are going through their own mid-life crisis. As convenient as this development may be, it allows mother (Blythe Danner) and daughter to have an interesting conversation where Jenna sides with her father without even knowing that she too will face a similar situation and react completely differently. She also acts cocky and confident, bragging to Mom that she has Michael figured out, which is certainly not true.
|“What are you, nuts? You don’t like the Shins?”|
Like “Crash,” Haggis delights in misdirection. Tom Wilkinson plays Jenna’s father, a clinical therapist whose chilly disposition and biting sarcastic remarks causes his wife to lash out. Lest we stereotype him as a villain, it is Wilkinson’s calm demeanor and reasonable voice that later begets much of the film’s healing. For a movie that is so concerned with being real, it backs itself into a corner with a problematic and simplistic ending. It is the only part of the story that reeks of Hollywood bullshit.
“The Last Kiss” prepares us all for the idea that even if our lives turn out the way we thought they would, there is no such thing as a perfect life or relationship. Such a depressing lesson could have been learned with a little more humor, but I admire it for tackling these ideas in a fairly balanced way. If the average age for a coming-of-age film has been pushed back this far, who knows? At this rate, maybe in another ten years, forty will be the new thirty!