THE LAST KISS directed by Tony Goldwyn, written by Paul Haggis, with Zach Braff, Jacinda Barrett, Casey Affleck and Rachel Bilson. 104 minutes. A Paramount release. Opens Friday (September 15). For venues and times, see Movies, page 107. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
The Last Kiss is being marketed as a classy romantic comedy, but despite its laughs it's not a comedy, and you'd be an idiot to take a first date to see it.
It's a pre-mid-life-crisis movie, like The Graduate if Benjamin Braddock had met the girl of his dreams 10 years later.
Michael (Zach Braff) has everything in place: a good job, a witty set of friends and a beautiful girlfriend named Jenna (Jacinda Barrett). Jenna's pregnant, and Michael, about to turn 30, starts thinking his life is too mapped out. So when a sassy 18-year-old college student (Rachel Bilson) comes on strong to him at a wedding, he takes the bait. Sort of.
Paul Haggis's (Million Dollar Baby, Crash) script, based on Gabriele Muccino's 2001 film L'Ultimo Baccio, delivers way more than that tired old triangle premise might suggest.
It's smart in the way it shows us (and not in a touchy-feely Dr. Phil way) that all relationships take a ton of work. Jenna, distracted by her own parents' marital woes, is unaware of Michael's crisis, as are his friends, who have decided to escape their own relationship fuck-ups by buying a used van and fleeing to Mexico.
So why doesn't the film entirely work? Two-time Oscar winner Haggis writes believable dialogue he's great at snappy one-liners and the miserable relationships here do seem really miserable.
But Haggis can't write women. Jenna never comes into focus, so her third-act rantings seem almost psychotic. (You can tell Barrett, the next fine-boned Aussie female actor to break out, doesn't know what to do here.) Meanwhile, The O.C.'s Bilson struggles uneasily with her under-formed stalker-in-training character. Yes, there's a nasty whiff of misogyny throughout.
Braff, though, delivers the goods as the conflicted guy in the midst of a life-changing event. The comparisons to Tom Hanks and Dustin Hoffman aren't so way off. Network TV has taught him how to deliver a joke, but there's enough ambivalence in those soulful eyes to suggest mystery.
His sheer ordinariness the slightly weak chin helps lets us project ourselves onto him. Exactly what's needed to become filmdom's next all American leading man.