Perhaps I'm just tired of watching films about whiny almost-30-year-old guys who don't want to grow up, or perhaps it's just that I'm tired of seeing Zach Braff do the angsty, existential thing. Whatever the case, Braff can't be solely blamed for The Last Kiss. Unlike Garden State, which he also wrote and directed, in The Last Kiss Braff only wears his acting hat. The film, directed by Tony Goldwyn off a screenplay by Paul Haggis (who's capable of much better), is a remake of 2001 Italian flick L' Ultimo bacio.
In The Last Kiss, Braff has the misfortune to play Michael, an architect with a gorgeous, perfect, long-time girlfriend, Jenna (Jacinda Barrett), who has just found out she's pregnant. The unexpected pregnancy sends Michael into a quiet state of freak-out which he carefully conceals, pasting on enthusiastic smiles for Jenna, her parents and their friends. He assures Jenna he's happy about the pregnancy (although impending fatherhood isn't quite enough to boost him past his marriage phobia), and that he'll love her pregnant body. Meanwhile, under the surface, he just wants to run screaming for the nearest exit back to adolescent freedom.
Now, perhaps it's a truism that most men around the age of 29 must go through a stage of behaving as if their personal development dial got stuck around the age of 14 at the first sign that they might have to actually grow up and accept the mantle of responsibility on their poor little shoulders, and I suppose I can see why so many filmmakers seem to think this is a fascinating topic to explore through film. But here's the thing: If the focus of your film is going to be this poor little man-child who doesn't want to grow up, he needs to be at least mildly sympathetic, and this character isn't.
Michael is torn. On the one side, he sees his friend Kenny (Eric Christian Olsen), living large as a footloose bachelor, freely banging as many babes as he can; on the other is his pal Chris (Casey Affleck), who already has a baby with his girlfriend Lisa (Lauren Lee Smith) and is absolutely miserable, fighting with Lisa all the time about the baby and how he doesn't do anything right. Michael looks at Chris and Lisa and sees his future with Jenna: A perfectly fine relationship forever demolished by the weight of responsibility for another human being.
How does Michael handle all this inner turmoil? By talking things over with his girlfriend, perchance? No, Michael seems to think it's far better to hit on another woman -- while he's at a wedding with his pregnant girlfriend, no less. When Kim (Rachel Bilson), a cute little college girl, comes onto him, Michael isn't exactly forthcoming about the seriousness of his relationship with his girlfriend, or the fact that she's carrying his child. Calling on every ounce of adolescent idiocy he can muster, Michael blithely accepts Kim's offer to look her up on campus sometime, before heading back to his girlfriend.
Having thus dipped his toe into the murky waters of infidelity, it's only a matter of time before Michael compounds his dishonesty in his relationship with Jenna by lurking around Kim's college campus until he sees her, offering her a ride, and accepting an invitation to attend a frat party with her. With all this trysting around, he nearly misses his girlfriend's ultrasound appointment. Side note to filmmakers: If you're going to make a film with a pregnancy at its center, take the time to get your basic facts right. In the film, after Jenna gets the ultrasound she calls her dad to tell him she's having a girl. Well, yay! -- except for the minor detail that at this point in the film, Jenna is only three months pregnant, and as anyone woman who's had a baby in the last 20 years could have told you, it's impossible to determine the baby's sex at that point in the pregnancy with an ultrasound. Basic stuff, kids.
Michael doesn't change his mind about going to the party with Kim, of course -- a decision that involves both lying to his trusting girlfriend about his whereabouts and dragging his friend Chris into covering his lie. Karma has a way of bitch-slapping the stupid right out of you sometimes, though, and of course Michael gets caught in his lie, and then tries to lie his way out of the lie, which only infuriates Jenna that much more. And naturally, he handles all this in the most mature and responsible way possible: He heaps insult upon injury by heading straight to Kim's dorm room for a little hanky-panky after his fight with Jenna. Meanwhile, in a little parallel side plot, Jenna's mom (Blythe Danner) and dad (Tom Wilkinson) are struggling with issues of emotion and fidelity as well.
There's been a bit of a backlash against golden boy Braff of late, and taking on a role like this is not going to help him out any. Michael is a completely solipsistic character who makes stupid decision after stupid decision. And while it is probably perfectly true that the sort of duplicity at the heart of Michael's relationship with Jenna is not uncommon, putting an actor with a "nice guy" reputation in that role does not make him more sympathetic; if anything it makes us feel even more enraged at him, because it makes us look at our own relationships and question whether the nice guys we're married to or dating, with whom we think things are going so well with, are secretly harboring their own inner assholes.
The Last Kiss isn't a film I would recommend as a date-night flick (especially not if your girlfriend has just found out she's pregnant); nor is it a girl's night out kind of film, because it's just going to irritate most women, and we don't usually look to our night out to make us feel lousy. I suppose the film might appeal to those 29-and-holding guys out there who can relate to Braff's character, but it's not exactly the kind of film you're going to suggest to your buddies, is it? I don't know who this film was made to appeal to, but I can't imagine that many people will actually find Michael at all sympathetic; personally, I just wanted to smack him around through the screen. Here's hoping that Braff, who I normally like quite a bit, plays a more likable character in his next effort.
For another take on The Last Kiss, see Jeffrey Anderson's review of the film.