Last Kiss, The (United States, 2006)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

I recommend The Last Kiss, but not without a misgiving or two. This movie is essentially a celebration of yuppie angst. It's about people in their late 20s who have issues with commitment and monogamy, who have lost their way and are trying to find themselves. Essentially, it's about middle age crises for people who are only a little more than half-way to middle age. The protagonist is obnoxiously self-centered, yet we are supposed to sympathize with him and (at least based on the ending) forgive him for some of the crass things he does. Nevertheless, I liked The Last Kiss because, no matter how self-absorbed some of the characters are, they are three-dimensional. People will identify with them. Not all the stories have tidy endings. And there's some wonderful dialogue to go along with the exceptional performances. This is one of those movies where you're willing to overlook the flaws in order to appreciate what's worth lauding.

The Last Kiss opens with an announcement: Michael (Zach Braff) and his live-in girlfriend of three years, Jenna (Jacinda Barrett), are going to have a baby. Marriage, however, is still not in the cards. Michael is terrified - he's not ready to commit to a long-term relationship with Jenna, and now he has the guillotine of fatherhood hanging over his neck. He feels trapped. Enter Kim (Rachel Bilson), a college junior he meets at a wedding. She's sweet, young, pretty, and completely into Michael. He knows where the road leads, but he follows it anyway. Jenna finds out, as is always the case in movies like this, and her reaction is predictable. Meanwhile, Jenna's parents are going through their own crisis. Anna (Blythe Danner), fed up by the apparent indifference of her husband, Stephen (Tom Wilkinson), confesses an affair and moves out. At the same time, Michael's friends, Chris (Casey Affleck) and Kenny (Eric Christian Olsen), are going through relationship problems of their own.

Zach Braff is a reactive actor. His performance style works best when he responds to the actions of others. This is fine for someone in a supporting role, but typically not great for a lead. In The Last Kiss, Braff is top-billed, but the film's saving grace is that it features three tremendous supporting performances. Jacinda Barrett is heartbreakingly real as Jenna - neurotic, jealous, angry, hurt, but still desperately in love with the father of her unborn baby who, as it turns out, is really just a kid in an adult's body. As Jenna's parents, Tom Wilkinson and Blythe Danner bring dignity and humanity to every scene in which they appear. The drawback is that there's not enough of them. A little too much time is spent on the half-developed stories of a few of Michael's buddies.

Although the tone lacks the levity of Trust the Man, there are narrative and thematic similarities. The absence of overt jokiness allows us to approach the circumstances of the characters in The Last Kiss with a greater degree of seriousness. On a grand scale, their problems may be shallow but to these individuals, they are earth-shattering. The film's goal is to present Michael as a weak, rootless man who must grow and learn a few hard lessons. In the end, however, The Last Kiss takes the easy way out, which makes it harder to feel for Michael. Has he suffered enough for all the pain he has caused?

Paul Haggis' screenplay is based on a 2001 Italian film named L'ultmo bacio, which I haven't seen. Like Crash, The Last Kiss seems more interested with cramming as many characters and situations into a reasonable running length than spending the time to delve beneath the surface. Michael and Jenna's story excepted, it's a case of breadth over depth. We get marriage troubles for the older couple, Chris' post-natal incompatibility with his wife, Kenny's fear of a relationship that transcends the casual stage, and Kim's juvenile infatuation with an older man (consider the "gift" she presents him with).

It seems that for every miss, there's an equal - if not stronger - hit. Haggis' dialogue is virtually without clunkers, and it is delivered with the appropriate weight by a solid cast. Braff's limp performance is countered by Barrett's emotional riveting one (although he's in more scenes than she is). The situations are interesting because the characters are real. Tony' Goldwyn's direction is sure-handed and the eclectic soundtrack will get many movie-goers surfing I-Tunes. For its core demographic, The Last Kiss has something to say, although it's fair to question how profound its words of wisdom are.

Last Kiss, The (United States, 2006)

Run Time: 1:45
U.S. Release Date: 2006-09-15
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity, Sexual Situations, Nudity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1