The Last Kiss is one of the first in a line of wide-release films vying for a shot at Oscar consideration this year. Lakeshore Pictures brings together Oscar-winning screenwriter Paul Haggis (Crash, Million Dollar Baby) and actor Zach Braff (Garden State) in what should have been a flawless combination of wit and pathos. While falling short of perfection, The Last Kiss still offers a disturbing, perceptive view into the human psyche.
Terrified by the pregnancy of his girlfriend, Jenna (Ladder 49’s Jacinda Barrett), and the pressure to marry her, Michael (Braff) finds himself in the company of a precocious young guest at his best friend’s wedding reception – a party where he would do better congratulating the groom than flirting with 20-year-old Kim (The OC’s Rachel Bilson). The situation worsens as Kim manipulates him into embarking on a relationship that is superficial at best. Jenna quickly realizes Michael’s betrayal, resulting in conflict where the boundaries of acceptable behavior in a protagonist, or even an anti-hero, are questioned.
Although perhaps intended as a showcase for Bilson, the real breakout came for Real World: London alum Jacinda Barrett. The film is at its finest when Barrett’s furious portrayal of Jenna’s deep demoralization makes it seem as though this kiss will indeed be Michael’s last. Bilson, however, fails to transfer the charisma of her television persona to the big screen, leaving the audience wondering what Michael found compelling enough about her to disrupt his life so completely.
Even with a flawed main premise, the captivating subplots keep the film afloat. Chronicling the imperfections and work that go into a marriage spanning three decades, much-adorned Blythe Danner (Meet the Parents) and perennial nominee Tom Wilkinson (In the Bedroom) offer multiple lessons for Michael and Jenna. Covering even more emotional ground, Haggis’ script also delves into the lives and woes of Michael’s four best friends, all in various states of moral and marital disrepair. Their coming-of-age vignettes range from pathetic to contemptible, and apparently exist only to mask the shortcomings of the main narrative. Despite this, they serve their purpose well, adding richness to the overarching themes of the film.
The Last Kiss, while not a masterpiece, vividly illustrates the inexplicable capability of people to sabotage their own happiness, and excels in examining the bounds of responsibility, commitment and forgiveness, both in relationships and life in general.