September 14, 2006

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The Last Kiss (R)
No one has a third-of-life crisis as adorably as Zach Braff, who proves it again in The Last Kiss, a solid though unextraordinary end-of-romance story.

Braff is just the lead here, not the director and writer as he was for Garden State, a film in which he clearly had more invested. He clearly has more invested in his role on Scrubs. His performance here is sleek and professional, very Braff-like, but missing that extra oomph.

Michael (Braff) has an excellent life, an excellent planned-out, mature, wide-eyed-panic-inducing life. His lovely girlfriend Jenna (Jacinda Barrett) has recently announced that she’s pregnant and has started to talk about buying a house together and even, despite the freak-out she knows it causes him, marriage. Yet all around him, Michael sees unhappy examples of that kind of life. There is his friend Chris (Casey Affleck), who seems to be perpetually fighting with his wife (who is somewhat crazed by their baby). There are Jenna’s parents Stephen (Tom Wilkinson) and Anna (Blythe Danner). Anna is desperate for Stephen’s passion, or at least his attention, but Stephen seems completely befuddled as to how to respond.

And, in the midst of this anguish at seeing his young guy life disappear and his future close in, Michael and Jenna go to a big sobby wedding (between two friends who seem happy but Michael doesn’t totally believe) and he sees her hold a baby and he all but hyperventilates. (But, you know, quietly, because it’s Zach Braff).

Then, he sees a girl. A young girl. A forward young girl. She introduces herself and seeks him out and they talk and by the end of a mostly innocent walk around the grounds of this outdoor wedding Michael has become thoroughly twitterpated with Kim (Rachel Bilson), the young girl who tells him how to get in touch with her again.

A few more walls close in on Michael and he decides to find her, accepts an invitation to a party and, against what he knows is every bit of good judgment, goes.

The movie follows not only Michael’s slide into caddishness but the trials of his male friends as well — from the teetering-on-the-edge-of-divorce Chris to a friend attempting to get over a recent breakup to another friend determined to stay single forever. These scenes are there, I suppose, for comic relief. Sometimes successful and sometimes not, the ultimate effect of these side-plots is to dull the movie’s focus on Michael and Jenna. Even a more prominent subplot involving Jenna’s parents seems interesting but not entirely important — in the end their story has no arc of change or development, just a flat line of things that happen but don’t really have an impact on the characters.

All of this unnecessary story fluff gets in the way of what could have been a really sharp, funny story about the difference between early twenties and late twenties — specifically, about the difference between you in college and you at 30. In the span of your life, the difference of the years is small and yet the difference between the personality and outlook of you at 22 (with all the promise of adult life, whatever that is, in front of you) and you at 30 (having made choices and created limitations) is plenty freak-out-inducing. The Last Kiss tips its toe in this pool but never wholeheartedly jumps in. Too bad, because the freak-out Braff gives us is charming and engaging in spite of (perhaps even because of) its The Graduate-like clichés. C+

— Amy Diaz


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