Judge Daniel MacDonald hopes word doesn't get out that he has mono...
Our review of The Last Kiss (Blu-Ray), published April 22nd, 2009, is also available.
We all make choices. What's yours?
An edgy, sexy, funny look at navigating relationships at the end of your twenties, and taking ultimate responsibility for the consequences of your actions, The Last Kiss is a challenging and rewarding picture, clearly a labor of love for the main players involved. It's packed with strong performances, great music, and understated cinematography, and deserves a spin in your DVD player.
Facts of the Case
Michael (Zach Braff, Garden State) seemingly has it all: a perfect girlfriend in Jenna (Jacinda Barrett, The Human Stain), a great job as an architect, and generally a comfortable life ahead of him. But when Jenna announces to her parents that she's pregnant, Michael's fears lead him to some severe lapses in judgment.
While he tentatively enters into a flirtation with the much-younger Kim (Rachel Bilson, The O.C.), his tight-knit group of friends faces their own crises. Chris (Casey Affleck, Ocean's 11) can't seem to be in the same room as his wife (Lauren Lee Smith, Art School Confidential) without fighting, not an easy situation to work out when you have a 10-month-old baby. Izzy (Michael Weston, Garden State) struggles to get over being dumped by his girlfriend, who he's been with since high school. And Kenny (Eric Christian Olsen, The Hot Chick) keeps hanging on to his 'live for the moment' philosophy. As if all that weren't enough, Jenna' s parents (Blythe Danner, The Myth of Fingerprints, and Tom Wilkinson, In The Bedroom) experience their own struggle with infidelity. It's a parfait of love and loss, at turns gritty, funny, and insightful.
The wonderful original theatrical poster for The Last Kiss was simple and evocative: mostly plain white, a monochrome photo of Zach Braff and Jacinda Barrett in the bottom right corner, large sans serif text. It looks like a poster from a Mike Nichols film of the 60s, which is apt, as the movie seems influenced by classics like Carnal Knowledge, with the same brand of harsh honesty and complicated characterizations. It's a shame that the realities of the marketplace prevented the DVD cover from featuring the same image.
Nevertheless, the picture is a welcome addition to the canon of "plight of a generation" movies that includes Diner, Reality Bites, and Beautiful Girls. It explores, from a variety of angles, the 30-year-old mid-life crisis, the seemingly abrupt shift from carefree to responsible. And while Michael is the central character, the supporting storylines manage to develop the same idea while being satisfying in their own right.
The movie's tagline, referenced above, is apt: each of the characters is dealing with the ramifications of choices made. There's no coincidence bringing people together, no accidents, and most importantly no easy answers—everything that happens is, for better or worse, the characters' own fault. The strident commitment to honesty, to exploring the emotional truth of these difficult situations, is so evident in this movie that it sticks with you long after the credits have rolled.
The film's other main theme is forgiveness, and should spawn many a discussion between couples as to what is and is not forgivable. Everyone in the picture gets hurt, and everyone has something to apologize for, whether it's done overtly or not. These two topics, making choices and seeking forgiveness for them, permeates pretty much every scene, and creates a cohesive whole out of a number of convergent storylines.
Zach Braff does the best work of his career here, given a character that's not always likeable, but is always real. He's walking a tightrope throughout the picture, and could have easily lost the sympathy of the audience along the way. Instead, we relate to his flaws, and appreciate that he takes responsibility for his actions—realizing that just saying "I'm sorry," doesn't automatically make things right. In a scene with Barrett, he effectively conveys the panicked, desperate attitude of a man betrayed by his own weakness, flailing around like he's drowning, begging for a life preserver—but moments later, that shame turns to anger directed back at Barrett in one of the most realistic and heartbreaking moments of the film.
Jacinda Barrett is phenomenal, too, appearing convincingly in disbelief, furious, then devastated, all in the span of about 30 seconds. She hits all the notes she needs to for a complete and studied depiction of a betrayed lover. Her American accent is nearly flawless (she's Australian), and she makes Jenna instantly appealing. I've not always been a big fan of her work, but am now.
The masterstroke of the script, by Oscar-winner Paul Haggis (Million Dollar Baby; Crash) and based on an Italian film from 2001, is the inclusion of Jenna's parents' storyline. Aside from Tom Wilkinson and Blythe Danner giving their usual engaging performances, it provides an excellent counterpoint to the other stories, showing that 30 years of marriage doesn't make things any easier—and Tom Wilkinson gets the film's best line of dialogue on the porch with Braff.
In Zach Braff's directorial debut, Garden State, he hand picked all the songs for the soundtrack and ended up winning a Grammy Award for his efforts. He took on similar duties here as well, providing director Tony Goldwyn (A Walk On The Moon) with several CDs of music choices; what ended up in the movie is a collection of poignant, perfectly placed tunes subtly guiding the tone of the picture from scene to scene. An Imogen Heap song, sung a capella, ties the stories together at a key moment in an entirely perfect way; use of music here has shades of Paul Thomas Anderson's choices in Magnolia.
The DVD presentation features a sharp, rich representation of the remarkably simple cinematography of Tom Stern (Million Dollar Baby), with no obvious flaws or dirt. Stern has done a number of films with Clint Eastwood, and his shadowy style, accomplished with as few lights as possible, create an ideal atmosphere for the story being told.
There's a fine assortment of special features as well. A four-part behind-the-scenes featurette gets into casting choices, development of the story, and favorite scenes, much of which comes off as a bit of a mutual admiration society, but will hold your attention for the roughly 45 minute running time. Also included is a music video directed by Braff, a bit disappointing in that it's essentially a collection of well-composed shots of the singer strumming a guitar, but at least it's nicely photographed. The gag reel is one of the funnier ones I've seen lately, and the deleted scenes, while wisely removed from the finished product, offer some additional insight to a few story beats (the two extra versions of the endings would have completely botched the picture).
The best extra is the audio commentary with Goldwyn and Braff; the pair have an easy friendship, and offer some really amusing quips along with interesting production trivia. A second commentary is also included, with Braff, Goldwyn, Barrett, Bilson, Olsen, and Weston. It's often very funny, but not as insightful as the first. Be warned, neither commentary is PG, so make sure the kiddies aren't around when you decide to listen.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Apparently there were a few walkouts during early screenings of the picture, audience members unwilling to spend more time with characters who've done such dark things. If you'd rather see right and wrong in a clear, binary distinction, this is not the movie for you. Most of the people we get to know here are deeply flawed, and do things they regret later. In trying to make the point that forgiveness is hard, some viewers are sure to be alienated.
The Last Kiss is a little picture that sneaks up on you, drawing you into a sometimes harsh reality, forcing you to consider what you would or wouldn't do, and what you could and couldn't forgive. It's an actor's piece, a showcase for what some great young talent can do with a meaty, nuanced script. The relationships come across as real and complicated, and the ultimate resolution is both open-ended and satisfying. If you're looking for a film to spark a discussion, give this one a try.
Not innocent, but not guilty either.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary by Zach Braff and Tony Goldwyn
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