Thursday, September 21, 2006


Written by Paul Haggis
Directed by Tony Goldwyn

If you spend any time at all at Zach Braff’s myspace page, you would read how excited and proud he is of his latest starring role in THE LAST KISS. In it, he plays Michael, a 29-year-old architect who has everything he’s ever wanted. He has a great position at a large firm in a field he loves; he has a strong group of friends who are always there for each other; and he has a beautiful, intelligent girlfriend who loves him deeply. He knows he’s a lucky man and his friends and family see how he’s about to get luckier with his girlfriend pregnant with their first child. He has them all fooled though because he sees this baby more as permanency than possibility. In many ways, this is the perfect follow-up to GARDEN STATE, in which, in addition to writing and directing, he also plays a man in his mid-twenties who does not know where his life is headed. It is only natural to find a similar character a few years later facing the issues that confront you when you finally get your ducks in line. And whereas Michael’s fear of never being surprised by life again is a real anxiety, the hollow characters that make up this ensemble lend little humanity to this reality. THE LAST KISS plays out, with rare exception, as a once-fresh tale that has been spoiled by one-dimensional characters, unmotivated actions, uninspired dialogue and an expectation that its deeper than it really is.

From the way Braff goes on in his blog postings, one would almost think he wrote and directed this film too. Despite not having any way to test this theory, I wonder if the film would have been better if he had. Braff’s creative influence on GARDEN STATE elevated it to a higher caliber of film making because of its innovative visuals, believably broken characters and timely musings. THE LAST KISS was written by two-time Academy Award winning writer, Paul Haggis (CRASH, MILLION DOLLAR BABY). Haggis juggled an even larger ensemble in CRASH and managed to give nearly every character enough backstory to make them tangible. Here, characters are more like symbolic signifiers for Braff’s Michael to go through his own transformation. One of the more notable examples is his friend, Chris (played by Casey Affleck who brings more heart to his character than any of the other younger cast members). Chris is married and has a newborn, whom his wife has grown so attached to that she no longer has interest or patience for her husband. The insinuation that this hell is what awaits anyone who gets married and has a baby is groan-inducing. Yet another obvious purpose is served in the writing of Michael’s future in-laws (played by the always subtle Tom Wilkinson and always fragile Blythe Danner). They remind Michael, and us of course, that a long term marriage is difficult at best but yet somehow still worthwhile if you work real hard and learn to forgive.

Despite all these poorly hidden character devices, I believe that Haggis’ script is only made worse by Tony Goldwyn’s direction. The problems even begin in the opening shot. Feet stroll by in close-up from each end of the frame while the credits appear amidst the limbs. A car approaches very slowly behind them and the camera tilts up to reveal Michael and his girlfriend, Jenna (Jacinda Barrett), sitting silently. The movement is awkward but the effort is noble. She asks what he is thinking about and he replies that he was wondering how he got so lucky to have her in his life. As he says this, a bus pulls up along side with a lingerie ad on its side. Michael leers and it becomes immediately obvious that THE LAST KISS will be about a man who learns to stop thinking with his penis and start feeling with his heart. Only Braff exudes too much sensitivity for him to come off as a typically uncaring guy. By the time Michael meets Kim (Rachel Bilson) at a friend’s wedding (an event that naturally depresses the typical male because it feels so final), he has cemented his stance as the man who has no idea what he wants. This is perfect because Kim is the younger temptress who knows what she wants but has no idea why. They sit in a tree house and exchange thoughts on how the world moves so fast that it is only natural that people break down far earlier than in past generations. It may be a contemporary theory but it feels as borrowed from GARDEN STATE as the film’s soundtrack does.

Zach Braff, post-GARDEN STATE, has become something of an easily identifiable every man. He filled the shoes for a generation unsure of its path and desperately in need of meaning. And though he merely plays a role in THE LAST KISS, he has become the face of the film thanks to all his praise and enthusiasm for it. I can understand his pride in his performance but his character is flat and unimpressive. The man he once personified may have been lost but was open minded and bravely forging out a fresh, new course for himself. The man he has now become walks down a run down street in worn out shoes and blends in with the crowd.

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