' Cinema Romantico: The Last Kiss

Monday, September 25, 2006

The Last Kiss

In recent years there seems to have been a backlash over what we'll term Confused-Twenty-Something-Films. They are prevalent, of course, but how could they not be? What else is a twenty-something supposed to write? I'm 29 and I've essentially been confused 365 days a year since age 22. The plot usually does not startle with originality but these types of movies are not about plot. They are about character. They are about observing those characters and listening to them.

"The Last Kiss", contrary to consensus of those who have seen the preview, is not "Garden State 2". Yes, it stars Zach Braff, and yes Rachel Bilson seems at times to be channeling (whether consciously or unconsciously) Natalie Portman. But "Garden State" was pretty much always looking for the joke, sometimes being weird for the sake of being weird. It was also tidy, with all the main character's problems getting resolved within about a week's time thanks to the love of a sweet young girl. "The Last Kiss" is not tidy. The problems that exist at the beginning are still hanging around at the end. Kinda' like your twenties, huh?

The main story concerns Michael (Braff) and Jenna (Jacinda Barrett). They live together and she has just learned she is pregnant, but they are not married. Partly because Michael won't agree to marry until Jenna can name three couples they know that have been married longer than 5 years. She can only name a couple of ducks at the pond and her parents.

But alas, her parents' marriage isn't as sound as it seems. And this is one of the masterstrokes of the film. It uses the parents (Blythe Danner and Tom Wilkinson) as counterpoint to the relationship between Michael and Jenna. It doesn't matter how old you get, men and women still have problems, you're just a little better equipped to deal with them.

The crucial turning point of the movie comes when Michael chooses to see the younger Kim (Bilson) on the sly (and this is not giving anything away which is not in the movie's preview).

My favorite touch in the film is the lack of Michael's reasoning for what doing what he does. Obviously, there is some mention of him being scared of leaving his youth behind (as all the characters in the film are) but this comes across more as an excuse than a reason. Michael even questions out-loud why he is seeing Kim and then goes ahead and does it anyway. It does not give us a ridiculous backstory to explain it all away. The woman exiting the theater ahead of me after the movie ended commented that Michael was "so stupid" for cheating on Jenna when she was so obviously perfect.

Well, of course he's stupid. He's a human being.

Braff's always been a solid actor but on "Scrubs" and in "Garden State" he simply seemed to be playing a variation on himself. But here he goes up another level. When he is confronted regarding Kim he spews the usual lines, "I made a mistake. It will never happen again. I realize how much I love you." People say these things in real life but in movies they never mirror real life. The character either truly means it or is clearly lying. But Braff makes it ring true. He says it in such a way that makes you know he desperately wants to mean it, but is not sure whether he really does.

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