"This is going to be one of those terrible mistakes—the ones you can't ever take back."
Going into this movie, I knew two friends who had seen it: one hated it and thought I would too; the other loved it and thought I would too. Don't tell, but I usually esteem the former's opinion more highly than the latter's, so when I heard the opening line of the movie above, I found myself nodding along, with the assumption that watching Just a Kiss would be one of those terrible mistakes you can't ever take back.
But it turns out I was wrong; I should have believed the other friend. It's a bit slow, a bit kooky, and a bit trite, sure; but if you can force yourself past those surface problems, you'll find a worthy movie.
Facts of the Case
Stay with me, because this is a little confusing…
Dag and Halley are a couple; that is until she finds out that he slept with Rebecca, his best friend Peter's girlfriend, who is now in a mental hospital after a suicide attempt. Soon after the revelation, before Halley has even moved out, Dag meets Paula at a bowling alley. In reality, Paula is more interested in Peter, whom she recognizes from a popular commercial, but Dag is her foot in the door. When Paula leaves a message on Dag and (still) Halley's answering machine, Halley decides she can't stay another night in the place and accepts Rebecca's offer to stay at her place while she's out of town. She's settled in for the night when there's a knock at the door. It's Andre, who, it turns out, has been sleeping with Rebecca, even though he's married to a woman named Colleen. And, even though he's married to Colleen, he's ridiculously hot, so Halley sleeps with him. At the same time, Peter boards a plane and is seated next to Colleen. He decides to call Rebecca and is leaving her a message when the interference from his cell phone causes the plane to crash.
And that's not even the half of it, all because Dag and Rebecca shared Just a Kiss.
"Quirky" is the best word I can come up with to describe Just a Kiss. The DVD cover offers such suggestions as "trippy," "different," and "absurdist," and I'd agree with all those as well.
What is it about this movie that inspires such vocabulary, you ask? Well, for starters, it doesn't follow a straightforward timeline. We start at one point, then flash forward quite a distance, then forward again, then back, then way back, et cetera, and then, when we get to the end, we rewind and try again. It's a bit like Memento or the backwards episode of Seinfeld in that we're shown the effects of an action before we see the action itself. At one point, Paula leaves a message on Dag's answering machine, and we wonder who Paula is and why she's leaving this message. By the next scene, which takes place earlier on the timeline, we understand perfectly. To confuse you even further, fantasy sequences pepper the story, so you're never quite sure if an event is really occurring or not.
Rounding out the confusion is the series of coincidences that permeates the movie. It seems everyone knows everyone else in some capacity, and every new person we meet is connected to someone else somehow. This aspect becomes a bit farcical by the end (the beginning?), though, as I found myself predicting the connections each new character would have. We just finish hearing Andre mention his wife, Colleen, when a woman approaches Peter in the airport. "This will be Colleen," I thought. And it was. I enjoy watching seemingly random incidents join together to make a complete story—much like an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm—but make me work a little harder to figure it out.
Just a Kiss is best categorized as a black comedy. It's not the blackest comedy I've seen, not by far, but it combines morbidity and a sardonic humor in such a way that I can't call it anything else. I laughed, but I wasn't always sure I should have been laughing. In more basic comedies, you always know when you're supposed to laugh, even if you aren't laughing. This film didn't provide any cues, so I can understand why some people would strongly dislike it. The humor is uncomfortable on purpose, but it's very easy to confuse it with a humor that's unsure and amateur. Combine it with the somewhat slow pacing, and many will find themselves bored and uneasy.
The transfers for this disc are, simply, adequate. Both the 1.85:1 video presentation and the Dolby Digital 2.0 surround audio track are good; but they're not great. They don't detract or distract from the movie, but they don't do much to enhance it either. Finally, with nary an extra to be found, not even a trailer, this disc is the very definition of bare bones.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
What's with the cartoons? The movie starts out looking like a comic book, and the feel carries over into the scene transitions, which are animated, in a sense. Unless Just a Kiss was a graphic novel before it was a movie, this aspect is over the top.
I'm hesitant to recommend this movie, as it seems to polarize its viewers. But it doesn't even divide them into those who hated it and those who loved it. Instead, you will either hate it or you will find it entertaining but not really be sure what you think about it. There's a chance you, like me, will find the latter an acceptable reaction to a movie—at least it made me think—and be satisfied. But there's a greater chance that you'll hold me responsible for recommending this movie in the first place.
Thus, I leave it up to you: if you don't mind walking away from a movie a bit perplexed, then give it a try. But if you see the world in black and white, this one's not for you. Of course, my luck, all of you who take my advice, grain of salt and all, will wind up in the group of those who hate it. After all, true love can come from Just a Kiss, but so can mononucleosis.
The jury is hung; I declare a mistrial. Just a Kiss is free to go.
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