The Last Kiss (2006)
Zach Braff has exploded in such a short amount of time. He was underappreciated on the perennially underappreciated Scrubs, but then his breakthrough came in 2004 with Garden State, an aloof, charming love story about personal awakening. After just one movie Braff is now a name-above-the-title headliner. For his second film, The Last Kiss, Braff stars as another young man going through another personal crisis. He even selected the radio-friendly songs for the soundtrack just like he did with Garden State. This new movie is actually a remake of a 2001 Italian film, adapted by Oscar-winning screenwriter Paul Haggis (Crash). But there?s one big difference between Garden State and The Last Kiss? Garden State is actually good.
Michael (Braff) works as an architect in Wisconsin. He’s having a bit of a crisis with the state of his life close to his impending thirtieth birthday. His girlfriend, Jenna (Jacinda Barrett), is pregnant with his child and the two are planning for their future, but all around them relationships are falling apart. Chris (Casey Affleck) feels crushed by the demands of his newborn child and wife. Kenny (Eric Christian Olsen) is looking for guilt-free sex. Izzy (Michael Weston) is a wreck after having his heart broken by his ex. Jenna’s parents (Blythe Danner and Tom Wilkinson) may be splitting after 30 years of marriage, not all of them blissful.
With all this in mind, Michael worries that his life seems too scripted now and deficit in surprises. Then along comes Kim (The O.C.‘s Rachel Bilson), a young flirty college student that shows a strong interest in Michael. He must decide where his life is heading and whose hand he’ll be holding.
One of the reasons The Last Kiss is hard to get into is that the film never really elaborates why this foursome of guys have it so bad. Chris complains about a dead marriage but maybe his wife would nag him less if he spent more time trying to chip in around the house instead of avoiding his fatherly duties. Kenny is all gung-ho about a hot girl who’s interested in relationship-free sex, but then he runs the other way when, heaven forbid, the girl mentions the idea of commitment. Next thing you know, Kenny is not only running away from this girl but he’s joining Izzy on his cross-country road trip. He’s laving the state because of the potential whiff of commitment. My fiancé, after we saw the movie, thought it was too stereotypical (woman: says one thing, wants other, man: scared of anything lasting). She suggested that Kenny slowly turns around his stance and wants to commit to this girl, who he obviously feels to be special. But that would mean The Last Kiss actually cares about the characters of Kenny and Izzy. These two serve more as a spare tire in a male relationship, and both their storylines are tied up with great time to spare.
Worst of all is Michael’s plight. He’s told by his buddies that he’s snagged the “perfect girl,” and from what we see she really is a lovely catch. Michael is freaking out because his life seems too tidy and empty of “surprises” now that a baby?s on the way. Boo hoo. So to jazz up his surprise-free life he has a fling with a college girl. Surprise! Isn’t your life better now, Michael? If it weren’t for the affable charm of Braff, who emits certain Dustin Hoffman Graduate vibes, the audience would feel no varying degree of sympathy for the dolt. Michael really bruises two innocent people just to needlessly reaffirm what he already knew. It’s hard to get behind all this. We don’t have to like characters, or their actions, but it hurts the drama when you’re simply watching one character hurt others for foolhardy reasons only evident to that character. In Unfaithful, we never really knew why Diane Lane had an affair but at least we saw complexity and strong repercussions.
There’s an element of maturity here and there with the screenplay, but twice as many moments of juvenile fantasies/fears (Look out, women will trap you and control you and expect equal work in return!). The movie has some adult material that works and hits its target, but it also falls apart with idiotic musings. The best moments seem to come from the examination of the fading marriage between Jenna’s folks. It’s an interesting slice of life not commonly seen in youth-obsessed Hollywood, and Danner’s outbursts about what it takes to hold a 30-year union together ring true. But this moment falls victim, like many, to a tidy, simpleminded answer. Almost every storyline in The Last Kiss ends with a bow on it all wrapped up. Michael’s told not to give up and he essentially sleeps on his porch, wearing down the anger of his girlfriend through dogged persistence. In fact, the ending reminds me a bit of Secretary, another romance that ended with one lover proving their devotion by staying in one place a really long time. It’s almost insulting that the film presents Michael behaving badly and then excuses him as long as he just sticks it out. It’s not the idea that’s insulting; it’s the fact that The Last Kiss uses this ending as a cheap and easy out.
One of the benefits of movies directed by actors is that they tend to generate good performances. Director Tony Goldwyn (A Walk on the Moon) has assembled a nice cast that gives more than the material they get. The real find is Barrett, who may just be the greatest alum of a reality TV show (she was on the London edition of MTV’s The Real World). She showed promise in 2003’s The Human Stain and The Last Kiss is really her declarative ascent. She might start getting a lot of offers that would have normally gone to a Meg Ryan or a Julia Roberts. She shows a range of emotions and her breakdowns are hard to watch because of how well she sells her distress. She handles has a natural ease about her, which pairs nicely with Braff’s laid back, unorthodox charisma. Bilson is cute and crimples her doll face in a way that makes her character seem more naïve than seductress. Braff plays his role a bit subdued. He flashes enough life to not seem like he’s sleepwalking though the same steps he plowed in Garden State. Still, it’s not a very remarkable performance for someone people keep tabbing as a potential voice of a generation (a term nobody could feasibly live up to).
The Last Kiss is an unconvincing, simpleminded disingenuous drama populated by whiny dolts afraid of the good things they have. It’s hard to sympathize with any of these flawed characters when we never really feel like their gripes hold water. Michael can’t believe his life seems planned out with a wonderful woman who’s having his baby. Solution: screw it up for variety. While it may be the spice of life, it’s also a heedless decision for someone who needs to wreck everything in order to realize what he has/had. This would all be easier to swallow if The Last Kiss didn’t tie everything up with a happy ending that lacked the groundwork. In the end, according to the film, all bad behavior can be wiped clean if you just wear down your significant other. The drama feels forced and the conclusions feel inappropriate. All human beings make mistakes and so do filmmakers.
Nate’s Grade: C
Posted on September 9, 2006, in 2006 Movies and tagged blythe danner, casey affleck, comedy, drama, jacinda barrett, paul haggis, rachel bilson, remake, romance, tom wilkinson, tony goldwyn, zach braff. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.