In The Last Kiss, a Hollywood remake of the 2001 Gabriele Mauccino film L’Ultimo Baccio, Zach Braff finds himself almost-30 and on the verge, looking dazedly around in the suspended moment before he walks quietly into baby-and-coupledom for the rest of his life.
Michael is a 29-year-old stuck in a happy yet mediocre life, with “no more surprises.” He is well employed and waiting the birth of a child with his girlfriend of three years, Jenna. All is well until his eye is caught by the sexily immature Kim, played by Rachel Bilson of The OC fame, who is a politically correct and less-shocking college coed instead of a high school student as in the movie’s original version. The mediocre and mundane lives of a host of connected characters surround Michael, including Jenna’s parents and Michael’s three close friends. The result is the interweaving of three characters in wildly different stages of life, whose problems are suspiciously similar. Everyone is in a deteriorating relationship, and the movie operates unconsciously on a sense of morbid curiosity from the audience.
Although the movie may point out that wisdom does not necessarily increase with age, the players in this ensemble drama seem to prove otherwise. Perhaps it was her comfort and admiration for director Tony Goldwyn, whom she has known since he was 10, but Blythe Danner as Jenna’s philandering and aging mother gave the strongest performance by far. The wife trapped in a marriage with an unappreciative husband is not a new story character, but Danner offers a simple and honest portrayal that smartly avoids histrionics. Her passive-aggressive husband Stephen, played by movie veteran Tom Wilkinson is the other strong characterization. Stephen’s confrontation with Michael over the sexual betrayal of his daughter Jenna is the focal scene of the movie. Michael laments his prestructured life, but vows that Kim is his “last kiss.” Stephen then becomes the bullhorn for the movie’s message, that “what you feel only matters to you!” The older, seemingly wiser man explains that it is what you do to the ones you love that matter, not the feeling itself. How do you show your love? By telling the truth.
The moral of the story: the truth will set you free. It is a fitting one; the American response to the movie’s real European origins, yet it is also the key difference that illustrates why the first try was worth it and the second just a stale copy. Even though a new movie with Zach Braff at a standstill in his life with a great soundtrack to accompany it initially conjures Garden State: the Sequel, the most telling comparison for The Last Kiss is its true parent, L’Ultimo Baccio. In many respects The Last Kiss is so similar to L’Ultimo Baccio that it is not so much a remake as a mere repackaging. Dialogue is almost word for word in the majority of the scenes. The difference is in the ultimate message- the Italian L’Ultimo is more cynical, and therefore more honest, managing to be more entertaining in the same go.
Goldwyn tries too hard to dress to impress, so the film’s reality is thwarted by a desire to shoot a symbolic birds-eye-view of Zach Braff curled around a doormat that says HOME on it – an image that you may have seen in the movie’s trailer. The movie is slow-moving, trying to express visually what it could be doing emotionally, trying too hard as well to aim for the loftier moral that love needs work. The edge that made L’Ultimo work was precisely that it did not try to deny that truth is overrated and often ignored and that in the end, sexual desire is the real catalyst for relationships – both their beginnings and endings.
The Last Kiss tries to be profound amongst the profane and silly. It tries to be a mirror to reality, but by doing so it fails to be nothing more than a string of soap opera vingettes that the audience watches from afar. It is decent entertainment fare, as are soap operas, but the success of the movie will be most affected by the movie’s unsure footing in any genre of experience. Too much of a cold relationship wake-up call for a date movie, too silly in parts to be a gritty drama, too much a cinema verité attempt to be a comedy – the movie is difficult to digest. One leaves the theatre as uneasy as every character in the movie is in their twisted personal relationships.
Now playing at Paramount Montreal, Cavendish and Marché Central, among others.