Review: The Last Kiss
Adapted from Italian filmmaker Gabriele Muccino's 2001 picture L' Ultimo Bacio but warped into an Americanized romantic comedy with delusions of grandeur by shameless Oscar-baiting hack Paul Haggis, The Last Kiss fronts as a critique of the commitment-phobic mentality of its male protagonists. Instead, the film neutralizes any potentially valid points by steering clear of any serious consequence for the often contemptible behavior of its leading men. What's more, the obvious desire to make its characters likable ups the ante from "lack of consequence" to outright reward, and the result is a film that perversely romanticizes and celebrates the relentless self-absorption of its cast, and serves to fuel the fantasy lives of real narcissists who map out their loathsome personal narratives in part on bad movies.
As fellow Movie Binger Chris Conroy notes in his review of the thematically similar Trust The Man, simply acknowledging one's flaws and making a half-hearted apology or two is not the same thing as redemption, nor is it even a substitute for self-awareness as the characters' desperate groveling is at best a pathetic attempt to con their way back into a liveable status quo until they once again fall out of line. There's nothing wrong with presenting these sort of characters in fiction if they are portrayed with some modicum of intelligence and honesty (check out the tremendously unsentimental characterization of Nate Fisher in the later seasons of Six Feet Under for a good example), but the creative timidity of everyone involved in The Last Kiss flips what ought to be an unflinching and uncomfortable depiction of the rampant cowardice and selfishness of its whiny, privileged characters into what I can only hope is an accidental sort of endorsement. Everything about the movie whimpers "accomodate me, embrace and assuage my neuroses," and it's played off as a form of noble suffering rather than for what it is: thoroughly punchable in its refusal to take any sort of responsibility, and insidious in its emo misogyny.
Zach Braff, whose occasionally grating presence is among the least of this film's considerable problems, stars as a young architect (his job doesn't really figure into the story, though it's just about the most generic movie-yuppie occupation outside of publishing, isn't it?) who has been avoiding getting married to his pretty yet boring girlfriend (Jacinda Barrett, whose acting career seems to have benefited from the fact that almost no one remembers the season of The Real World that she was on back in the mid-90s) even though she's recently become pregnant with his child. He ends up cheating on her with a perky undergrad played by The OC's Rachel Bilson, but his ineptitude in concealing this liason results in him being found out by his girlfriend before the night is through.
It's all rather dull as far as infidelities go, but that would seem to be part of the point. Before, during, and after this event, Braff's character spends a lot of time moaning about hating the mediated rituals of straight moneyed normalcy and fearing a life without “surprises,” but he can't even manage to rebel against that with any sort of imagination. The same lack of personality and courage that has him sleepwalking through his bland life is exactly what informs the non-decisions that he makes as he awkwardly attempts to shake himself free of a larger psychological problem that he does not comprehend. He's doomed because he always takes the path of least resistance, not because he lied and made a mess out of a comfortable situation. The Last Kiss teeters on the brink of this awareness, but much like its chief protagonist, it errs on the side of buying back its audience's shallow sympathies rather than actually engaging with the root of its problems.
(Special thanks to Hannah Carlen.)