With a title like The Last Kiss and a poster featuring Zach Braff doing his usual puppy-dog eyed stare, you’d be forgiven for thinking this was a fluffy romantic comedy, perfect for that first date. You’d be very wrong however.
The Last Kiss, a remake of the Italian 2001 film L’Ultimo Bacio, is a pretty bleak study of relationship problems and break ups – Michael (played by Braff) is reaching 30 and finds himself with Jenna, the perfect girlfriend who’s recently announced she’s pregnant. Cue Michael being thrown into a panic about looming responsibilities and a perceived loss of his youth, and enter Kim, a young student with whom he embarks upon a fling.
As if that’s not enough, Michael’s friends and family appear to also be enduring relationship dramas – his friend Chris is in the process of splitting up with his wife after the birth of their child, and another friend Izzy is finding it hard to come to terms with the break-up of his long-term relationship. Even Jenna’s parents seem to be experiencing some kind of marital break-up.
The Last Kiss is a brave attempt to tackle issues that aren’t often dealt with in your typical Hollywood movie. Most of the characters are flawed, but don’t fall into any stereotypes. Kim, for example, could easily have been portrayed as some kind of slut, but she instead comes across as an idealistic, rather naive young girl. The fact that she’s played by the almost unfeasibly cute Rachel Bilson also means that there’ll be more than a few men in the audience who may sympathise with Michael’s dilemma.
The main strength of the film is the acting. The ensemble cast are uniformly excellent, although top marks must go to Tom Wilkinson and Blythe Danner as Jenna’s parents. Braff does well with a character that could have so easily come across as an unlikable jerk, although he is a bit too close to his role in Garden State for comfort. Of the supporting cast, Casey Affleck stands out as the exhausted new father coming to terms with the fact that his marriage is over.
Paul Haggis, the man who wrote the Oscar-winning Crash and Million Dollar Baby scatters his scripts with witty lines (such as Affleck’s reaction when he finds out Michael is cheating on Jenna: “Why would you cheat on her? She’s beautiful, and she’s like a guy”) and as you’d expect from Haggis, the film is very dialogue heavy. Inevitably for this type of film, there are often lines that you can’t imagine real people actually saying (“What you feel only matters to you, it’s what you do to the people you love. That’s what matters. That’s the only thing that counts” for example), but it mostly works.
Where the film falls down is in the development of the characters. There’s nothing to suggest just why Kim would fall for Michael so instantly – in truth, he’s a bit of a drip. The rest of the supporting characters suffer from being insufficiently developed – the most interesting relationship is that between Danner and Wilkinson, yet they’re not on screen for long enough. Although the characters are likeable enough, there’s an air of self-absorbment that means it’s hard to actually care about them.
The Last Kiss is to be applauded for not being yet another romantic comedy and with unobtrusive direction from Tony Goldwyn and another hip melancholic indie soundtrack handpicked by Braff, it looks and sounds great. There are some flaws here, but in general it’s a laudable attempt to explore relationships and the troubles that come with them. Just don’t take a new girlfriend or boyfriend to it…