Coming of age story fails to mature
Everything seems to be getting smaller these days: MP3 players, waistlines—the age at which a person is expected to have a midlife crisis. In "The Last Kiss," Michael (Zach Braff) is an almost thirty-something with a ubiquitous crisis, crises if you will. He has a beautiful girlfriend, Jenna (Jacinda Barrett), a promising career in architecture and loyal friends he's known since childhood.
But when Jenna becomes pregnant, everything seems to change for Michael. Yes, he does want to spend the rest of his life with her, but he fears his hybrid Toyota will no longer be able to take him to surprise and adventure. All too conveniently, Michael meets the flirty college sophomore, Kim (Rachel Bilson). And when he hesitates to tell Kim that he is already in a relationship, both he and the movie stray down a path that leads to nowhere but a dead end.
Just as Michael can't seem to decide exactly what he wants from life, the filmmakers struggle to identify the purpose of the story and present it convincingly. Unable to select the most valuable characters, the filmmakers simply decide to keep all of them. The crushing overabundance of lesser conflicts distracts from the central plot, which should focus on Michael, Jenna and Kim.
Director Tony Goldwyn aims for a nuanced romance but instead produces an overwrought series of contrived conflict that is more affected than affecting. Creating a series of loosely linked characters all suffering from Peter Pan complex does not warrant meaning without a legitimate sense of purpose. Though the exposition is promising, without a disciplined storyline, the episodic tensions fall well short of any genuine depth. In the end, screenwriter Paul Haggis ("Crash," "Million Dollar Baby") is forced to manufacture an ambiguous resolution that leaves viewers unsatisfied.
In his effort to develop minor plots that contribute little to the story, Goldwyn also overlooks the smaller details that save the film. The most resonating scene, in which Jenna's father (Tom Wilkinson) tells Michael "it's what you do to the people you love that counts," is carelessly neglected. A quiet discussion between two men may not be as exciting as watching college students party, but sometimes less is more.
The acting is a welcome diversion to the lackluster story, boasting a charming ensemble cast of up-and-comers and Hollywood veterans. Braff manages to scrape out a likeable — if flawed — character not much different from the pill-popping lost soul he played in "Garden State." Blythe Danner and Wilkinson anchor the movie and bring stability as Jenna's parents. But the show is stolen by the absolutely radiant Barrett, the only one able to connect with the audience. Charming as the perfectionist soon-to-be mother and heartbreaking as the deceived girlfriend, Barrett is the main source of heart and soul.
Ultimately, Michael's hesitation to tell Kim the truth and accept adulthood is the decisive factor and sums up the entire film. Yes, eventually he does choose to grow up, just as the filmmakers eventually escalate the humdrum tension into an outstanding climax. But by then it is far too late and the damage has been done.
"The Last Kiss" (115 minutes, in wide release) is rated R for sexuality, nudity and language.
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