We’ve all seen that “happily ever after” romantic comedy again and again. But we also all know that the course of love never runs smooth. Heartaches, heartbreaks, falling out of love, or in love with another person – these are all obstacles many people run into through their lives. The Last Kiss takes a unique approach to telling a love story by focusing on how love isn’t always a certain thing, and how that uncertainty can lead good people in bad directions.
In the center of The Last Kiss is Michael (Zach Braff), a 29 year old guy in a relationship with Jenna (Jacinda Barrett), who they have just discovered is pregnant. Michael admits that when it’s time to settle down and grow up, Jenna is the perfect woman to do it with but he’s also not certain that time has come. Michael is more concerned that life holds no more surprises for him than he is about their unborn child. When he meets Kim (Rachel Bilson), a college student still a couple of years away from graduation, at a wedding, he finds new surprises in life. But what is more important – holding on to that you love, or random surprises?
Michael isn’t the only one going through relationship struggles though. His friends are all suffering from some sort of crisis. Izzy (Michael Weston) has just been dumped by the girl he’s dated since high school and is absolutely torn up about it. Chris (Casey Affleck) is trying to adapt to life as a father, but his wife would rather find fault with everything he does than let him be a part of that life. Kenny (Eric Christian Olsen) is living the bachelor’s dream life with a new girl every night, but even that doesn’t seem to be enough for him. While these are all typical problems for the near-thirty crowd, the film also adds in relationship struggles for Jenna’s parents, whose mother (Blythe Danner) feels unappreciated by her father (Tom Wilkinson) and leaves him, attempting to rekindle an affair she had a few years prior.
As you might tell from the plot, the events in The Last Kiss are pretty heavy. While the movie is advertised as a romantic comedy, it’s light on comedy, especially light on romance, and very focused on turmoil and conflict. These are a bunch of unhappy people who are trying to find some happiness in a world that doesn’t always offer that easily. Braff’s last film, his own Garden State, was also somewhat dark, but it doesn’t even compare to the angst this movie is filled with. As a guy in his early thirties, however, I can attest to the fact that these kinds of problems arise at this point in life quite frequently. There isn’t a relationship crisis in this movie that I haven’t experienced in some fashion, either first hand or through a friend.
The bulk of the angst comes from the script, adapted from the Italian L'ultimo bacio by Million Dollar Baby and Crash scribe Paul Haggis. As usual, Haggis has a knack for realistic dialogue that really communicates emotion. The male actors really take Haggis’s script and bring it to life, although the females have one more issue to face – their characters frequently come across as cold and unfeeling and are unsympathetic. While this works for Izzy’s ex-girlfriend, helping build sympathy for the guy who has had his whole life destroyed, it doesn’t work as well for Lisa (Lauren Lee Smith), Chris’s bitch of a wife who doesn’t give him a chance to prove himself as a father without absolutely berating him. It’s the only place the movie feels unrealistic, like there should be some justification for Lisa’s behavior since the movie makes everything else feel real.
Haggis doesn’t get all the credit for The Last Kiss though. Director Tony Goldwyn takes a brilliant visual approach to the film, using reflective surfaces and physical barriers to visually establish how people are relating. Even an untrained eye can spot the subtle nuances to the cinematography. As an experienced actor, Goldwyn also allows his actors to run the pace of many scenes and gives them opportunity to show off their talents rather than feel the need to take total charge of the movie in the editing room.
My only real complaint with The Last Kiss is that it is a very harsh movie and presented in a very realistic manner. That means there aren’t always happy endings or easy answers. Frequently we go to the movies to escape the problems of the real world, but neither Haggis’s script nor Goldwyn’s direction aid in any sort of escapism. This is close to reality, placed on the screen as a window into these peoples’ lives. It’s not always funny and it’s not always pretty, but it’s real. If you, yourself are going through relationship crises, this is not the happy-go-lucky romantic comedy that’s going to help you feel better or find any solutions. Life is tough and love is hard, and so is The Last Kiss
At first appearance, the DVD release for The Last Kiss is pretty average. There are two commentary tracks, some deleted scenes, a gag reel, a few featurettes, and a music video. The video is from the movie’s soundtrack (Cary Brothers’ “Ride”) but was also directed by Zach Braff who, along with his contributions to the featurettes and both commentary tracks, appears to be the disc’s focus although he was only an actor in the film. After combing through the disc’s special features, this is not a bad choice.
The featurettes are actually one long documentary divided into four parts: casting, behind our favorite scenes, and final reflections. It’s a pretty interesting documentary, especially explaining the thought process behind the characters and justifying why the roles were cast the way they were. My comments above about some of the female roles coming across as unsympathetic were a concern for Goldwyn and the cast. They talk about worrying about the characters being too one dimensional or just being bitchy. Unfortunately, in a few cases, it becomes clear they knew about the problem but weren’t able to overcome it. I wish the DVD producers had put in a “play all” option for the featurettes. You have to access each part individually, which is a tiny bit frustrating since they clearly should all be one giant documentary.
There are a few deleted scenes, most of which were cut for obvious reasons. A few of them are just extended versions of scenes that are already in the movie and would have been fine to go back in (such as the extended bachelor party scene) but other scenes add even more lack of sympathy to characters like Lisa and were best left on the cutting room floor. Absent is an extended version of the opening dinner sequence where Tom Wilkenson improvised a long joke that is alluded to on the commentary track but doesn’t actually appear anywhere.
The two commentary tracks both include Braff and Goldwyn. The first of the two tracks uses only them to talk about the film and Braff really puts on his director hat for the track, questioning some of Goldwyn’s decisions and getting some really good answers. It’s neat to see the two talk as peers and I have to wonder how much Braff collaborated on the film itself. The second track features the director and star along with Barrett, Affleck, Bilson, Weston, and Olsen. With so many people the conversation can be somewhat confusing and, surprisingly, the commentary drops out frequently as the cast watches the film instead of commenting on it. Goldwyn points out that, when they do talk, it’s a good sense of what life on the set of the film was like as the conversation gets raunchy and suggestive at times. It’s a fun commentary but for actual information on the making of the movie, the one with just Braff and Goldwyn is the better one.