Is 30 the new 50, or is it the new 12? This is one of the questions implicitly raised by The Last Kiss, which is not so much a coming-of-age story as it is yet another story about how hard it is, these days, to act your age.
The main character, Michael (Zach Braff), has a nice job, a lovely, newly pregnant girlfriend named Jenna (Jacinda Barrett) and a squad of loyal buddies. When he complains that he feels as if he's “in crisis” as his 20s near their end, he sounds precociously middle-age. At the same time, though, he behaves less like a man for whom adulthood is already a burden than like a child for whom maturity is a scary and seductive abstraction.
The refusal of young (or not so young) men to grow up has been the subject of magazine articles and advice books since long before many of us reached voting age. If anything, such arrested development has been a theme in movies for even longer.
The Last Kiss, Tony Goldwyn's remake of a popular Italian film from 2001, belongs to a venerable tradition that can be traced, through Diner and American Graffiti, all the way back to another Italian movie, I Vitelloni. In that great 1953 film, directed by Federico Fellini, a group of young men chased girls and evaded responsibility until the father of one of them lost patience and went after his son with a belt. While I can't condone the brutality of his methods, I couldn't help but wish that a similarly no-nonsense patriarchal figure would show up and whip some sense into Braff and his pals.
Instead, Tom Wilkinson, playing Michael's would-be father-in-law, a professional therapist, offers mild reproof and fatherly advice during the movie's explosive climax. There are perfectly sound dramatic reasons for his reserve, and in any case it is consistent with the movie's gentle, tolerant view of its characters, a perspective that proves to be a limitation and something of a surprise.
The Last KissDirected by Tony GoldwynStarring: Zach Braff (Michael), Jacinda Barrett (Jenna), Casey Affleck (Chris), Rachel Bilson (Kim), Michael Weston (Izzy), Blythe Danner (Anna), Tom Wilkinson (Stephen) and Eric Christian Olsen (Kenny).Taiwan release: TodayRunning time: 115 minutes.
The Last Kiss, directed by Goldwyn (A Walk on the Moon) from a script by the estimable Paul Haggis (Crash, Million Dollar Baby), inherits from its source a crowded, glib story. But it also, unusually for an American remake of a European original, preserves the earlier film's candor about human behavior. Most major-studio releases treat romantic love with cynical, coarsening prurience or with an equally cynical sentimentality — sometimes both, as was the case with Wedding Crashers last summer.
The fallibility of the romantic ideal — which is nonetheless indispensable on screen and off — is something Hollywood has trouble dealing with. The Break-up, in which Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughan did just what the title promised, would have been a more notable exception if it were anything like a good movie. The Last Kiss, while not quite a good movie either, at least deserves credit for its honesty.
Which is not a trait it shares with its hero. At a wedding, Michael meets Kim (Rachel Bilson), a cute, skinny college student who seems to be attracted to him, and without quite meaning to — but also without stopping himself — he pushes their flirtation into something more dangerous. Scared by impending fatherhood, he is also worried that settling down with Jenna will drain all the surprise from his life. He observes his friend and co-worker Chris (Casey Affleck) as the pressures of parenthood cause his already fragile marriage to buckle.