(Originally posted on 9-17-06)
I seriously went into this movie planning to come out the other end not caring for it a whole lot. Chalk it up to my overtly cynical nature (which, personally, I prefer to call “hard earned pragmatism”), but my general faith in Hollywood is fairly limited.
My entire expectation going in to this movie was for it to be a good stab at Hollywood unsentimentality, but to sell out in the end (just like Garden State did).
It’s not that I don’t like happy endings, I mean, truthfully I am a sucker for them, it’s just that I don’t like unearned happy endings… or tacked on happy endings, or unbelievable happy endings (and let’s not forget the Steven Spielberg trifecta-ed blue plate special – all three rolled into one). The Last Kiss, directed by Tony Goldwyn (A Walk on the Moon), was able to avoid all of these easy endings and leave the whole thing like it is in real life – up in the air. Open to interpretation and the ongoing individual choices of the characters.
Now, having said that, it doesn’t mean I thought the movie was perfect. It still is fairly cliché and the characters are all relatively stereotypical, but the performances are all strong and the change up to expectations is refreshing.
The basic premise is an old one. Michael (Zach Braff) is just about to turn 30. He has been with his girlfriend Jenna (Jacinda Barrett) for three years and they are just recently pregnant, and Michael is trying not to deal with being a grown up. Into all of this comes a very forward college girl (Rachel Bilson as Kim, a less eccentric version of Natalie Portman’s character Sam from Garden State) with her eyes on him.
In addition to this central arc, we also get some insight into the personal arcs of Michael’s best friends since High School: the unhappily married best friend (Casey Affleck), the overly emotional buddy (Michael Weston) whose high school sweetheart just broke up with him, and the oversexed friend (Eric Christian Olsen, who was also just in Beerfest) with no responsibility at all. Plus, there is Stephen and Anna (Tom Wilkinson and Blythe Danner), the parents of Jenna, in the story arc that gives all the others perspective.
The story is not anything out of the ordinary. It has been told a hundred times before. However, the performances are all sharp and all honest. The sentimentality is limited and, again, the ending is left open to interpretation. Zach Braff is excellent as the generally likeable lead that makes some disastrous choices. Jacinda Barrett is appropriately hurt and believable as the wounded and betrayed innocent girl friend caught in the middle of the selfish choices of the man she loves. And Tom Wilkinson is superb as the moral center of the film.
And Cindy Sampson as Danielle (a brief fling of Eric Christian Olsen’s character) is just plain hot.
Again, the movie isn’t perfect, but it is much better than the material behind it. It deals with the interpersonal insecurity and problems that we have all faced to one degree or another and it deals with them relatively honestly. Without betraying how they end in real life. And the collective performances sell it.