An angsty relationship drama that would have been right at home as an indie release ten years ago, "The Last Kiss" is overly familiar and brings nothing new to the table. Aiming for the same crowd that fell in love with star Zach Braff's stunning 2004 directorial debut, "Garden State
," this new film is inferior in every way and leaves the viewer feeling empty and dissatisfied. Although director Tony Goldwyn (2001's "Someone Like You...
") and screenwriter Paul Haggis (2005's "Crash
") occasionally wander away from a conventional trajectory, the various plot threads, each struggling unsuccessfully for adequate screen time, remain limp and patchily edited together.
The story of a group of friends experiencing their own personal pre-mid-life crises as they approach thirty, "The Last Kiss" zeroes in on Michael (Zach Braff), an architect with a loving three-year relationship with live-in girlfriend Jenna (Jacinda Barrett). When she unexpectedly gets pregnant, Michael finds himself fearing that the rest of his life has been suddenly planned out for him. When a cute and outgoing college junior named Kim (Rachel Bilson) sets her eyes on him at a wedding they are both attending, Michael semi-reluctantly reciprocates interest. In spite of his better judgment, he flirts with the idea of cheating on Jenna.
Michael's three friends aren't any better off. Izzy (Michael Weston) is mourning a recent breakup with high school sweetheart Arianna (Marley Shelton), and isn't taking it well at all. Chris (Casey Affleck) is in a crumbling marriage to Lisa (Lauren Lee Smith) that has only gotten worse since the arrival of a baby. And as for Kenny (Eric Christian Olsen), he has chosen frequent loveless sex over serious relationships. Meanwhile, Jenna's mother, Anna (Blythe Danner), makes a tough decision to leave her distant husband of thirty years, Stephen (Tom Wilkinson), only to have second thoughts when she gets a glimpse of what life would be like without him.
A remake of a 2002 Italian film of the same name, "The Last Kiss" works in spurts, but not as a whole. All of the subplotsIzzy's, Chris', Kenny's, and Anna's and Stephen'sare halfhearted, underdeveloped wastes, and only Chris is afforded anything resembling a payoff. Cutting back and forth between these two-dimensional characters and their paint-by-numbers problems is carried off with an odd gracelessness by director Tony Goldwyn. Neither personalizing these people to the point where the viewer cares nor finding the depth to do them justice, each one of these story tangents only serves to get in the way of the others.
When the focus sways to Michael's quandaries, the film is most effective. As a bumpy tale of true love between he and Jenna that may or may not survive an affair, it is uneven. Their romantic bond is only vaguely glimpsed before Michael's eyes and mind start to wander, leaving Jenna to scream and cry and pout for the remainder of the running time. What does work, however, is the depiction of Michael's doubts and fears, which inevitably lead him to make one self-destructive mistake after the next. It would be easy to label Michael as an unforgivable louse, but his poor choices instead make him invigoratingly flawed and sympathetically human. He's a guy who, on the verge of thirty, isn't sure he is ready to grow up and settle down into a mundane, or at least predictable, pattern. The appearance of the young and lively Kim in Michael's life entices him because she epitomizes what he yearns to still have, but no longer does. It takes a tryst with Kim to make Michael realize they are worlds apart, but by the time he discovers for sure that his heart is with Jenna, the damage has already been done.
In only his second leading role in a feature film, Zach Braff (TV's "Scrubs") has down pat the portrayal of a wayward, internally suffering twenty-something. Braff's Michael is less savory than his character in "Garden State
," but he warrants credit for making all of Michael's bad decisions understandable. As girlfriend Jenna, Jacinda Barrett (2006's "Poseidon
") has a stock character to play and doesn't satisfactorily evolve beyond peripheral statusall that is really learned about her is that she loves Michael and is pregnantbut Barrett plausibly digs into her dramatically charged scenes all the same. The argumentative scenes between Michael and Jenna have an odd sense of been-there-done-that, and there's a reason"The Break-Up
" beat them to the punch and the fights between Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston felt more immediate and real.
As Anna, who finds the temporary courage to walk out on an unhappy marriage, Blythe Danner (2004's "Meet the Fockers
") accesses moments of poignancy, as when she goes to see a former flame (Harold Ramis) who is now married himself, but her overall character arc feels artificial and unfinished. The brightest find is Rachel Bilson (TV's "The O.C."), whose scenes with Braff's Michael are the movie's best and zippiest. Bilson is energetic, quirky, real, and just a tad on the selfish side as Kim, who is treated as a person of feelings and cares, even when the immaturity of her young age shines through. Had screenwriter Paul Haggis, taking a big step down after his Oscar-winning "Million Dollar Baby
" and "Crash
," concentrated solely on the love triangle between Michael, Kim and Jenna, he might have had a better film on his hands.
As is, "The Last Kiss" is overstuffed with too many characters and too many vying plot lines for any of them to take shape. The film takes a few chances for a mainstream studio releasethe finale, for one, is open-ended rather than wrapped up in a neat, upbeat bowbut the overall narrative is tediously routine. By the end, "The Last Kiss" says little about growing up and relationships that hasn't been coveredand betterin virtually hundreds of other pictures on the same subjects. Truth be told, the old "cheating-is-bad" adage is about as deep as things go. Considering the wonderfully layered work he did on "Garden State
," perhaps Zach Braff should have had a go at this screenplay. A new set of eyes and another draft could have only helped.