Reviews

The Last Kiss (2006)

Nikki Tranter

This is not a revised look at new-young-adult ideals: it's an age-old crock.


The Last Kiss

Director: Tony Goldwyn
Cast: Zach Braff, Jacinda Barrett, Casey Affleck, Michael Weston, Eric Christian Olsen, Rachel Bilson, Blythe Danner, Tom Wilkinson
Distributor: Dreamworks
MPAA rating: R
Studio: Paramount
First date: 2006
US DVD Release Date: 2006-12-26
Website
Trailer

Zach Braff and his Last Kiss co-stars all agree their film is the quintessential modern morality tale, with an unparalleled understanding of young couplehood in the '00s. The source of much of this raving has to do with the film's apparently scorching honesty: it's unafraid, Braff says on the new DVD commentary, to present "the ultimate flawed protagonist", at the mercy of "lust, ego, and fear." To hear Braff and co. tell it, the grown up world is a series of temptations and our susceptibility to these temptations only confirms our humanness.

Michael (Braff) is susceptible here to seductive Kim (Rachel Bilson), who he meets at a friend's wedding. Soon, Michael, about to be a father with "perfect" girlfriend Jenna (Jacinda Barrett), begins what becomes a lusty affair with Kim, and moves rapidly from discussing home loans and baby names to dirty dancing in clubs and bumping groins in car parks. He lies to Jenna, his friends, and, eventually, even his mistress. For Michael, a few stolen kisses are worth sacrificing his integrity. But perhaps he knows something we don't, as Jenna winds up forgiving him. He only has to sleep on the porch for a few days and he's back in the good books, end of story. If only it were all so simple.

But Jenna's mercy is not the shocking part. Throughout the commentaries and "making of" segments of the DVD, it is revealed that everyone involved with this film from the young stars to the middle-aged writer (Paul Haggis) and director (Tony Goldwyn) through to 60-plus co-star Blythe Danner side with Michael. They might not agree with his actions, but they certainly offer him a frightening amount of understanding. Barrett calls Jenna's forgiveness "profound", while Danner praises it as an understanding of the shortness of life. As in, life is too short not to forgive, and also too short, apparently, to bother finding someone slightly more honorable to spend it with.

Perhaps the problem here is not with Michael's actions, but the film's handling of them. The character undertakes his affair and realizes his error in a matter of days. It goes like this: Michael flirts with Kim, they toss out a few kisses, Jenna finds out, gets mad, and Michael goes off and finally seals the deal with Kim (integrity schmintegrity, but, keep in mind, this is all supposed to be so painfully realistic). Michael is given absolutely no time to develop beyond Stereotypical Afraid-of-Commitment-Guy. We never quite understand his motivations for risking everything with Jenna. Similarly, we never really know why Jenna takes him back. All we see is Michael surviving the elements on Jenna's doorstep for the aforementioned few nights until magically the door opens and all appears well. (The original film ends with the Michael character lying to his girlfriend about sleeping with his mistress -- an ending with far greater impact.) As for Michael's motivations, Braff and Goldwyn sum it up with a simple "how could any man resist" excuse during lingering shots of Bilson's hard belly.

The DVD extras are not the place to search for any real answers here. Braff and Goldwyn spend much of their commentary making super self-aware jokes in order to demonstrate their cleverness and Hollywood-insider knowledge over any deep explorations of their film. When they do attempt explanation, their conclusions are just bizarre. Braff points out that Michael's deceptions were key to his taking the role. He talks about the film's bravery in presenting this unreliable protagonist, but never mentions it's cowardice in changing the film's original ending and making Michael near saint-like.

But no one here wants to give Michael a hard time. "This movie has the courage to tell it like it is," announces producer Gary Lucchesi without elaboration (does this mean the French film told it like it isn't?) It's "evolved", Jacinda Barrett dribbles, to say that human beings make mistakes, as if this might be the first film to explore such an idea. Even less is said about the characters themselves, apart from these sadistic gems: "[She] has the power of her sexuality and she uses it," Braff says, shifting some of the blame for the affair off Michael. And if that wasn't bad enough, check out Goldwyn's justification for Michael's behavior: "[Some people go] to the darker corners in order to experience their life, and those are the people that interest me."

There's nothing wrong with recognizing our frailties, but when we start using the inability to accept responsibility as an excuse for our every stupid act, we're headed into a different, dangerous area. This is not a revised look at new-young-adult ideals: it's an age-old crock. It's an argument for male angst: Boys cheat and lie and shouldn't have to change diapers, and girls are either nags, bores, or cock teases with little purpose beyond stifling a guy's right to unconditional freedom. All The Last Kiss does is cement the ballsiness of it's predecessor, and prove Haggis's forgiveness-heavy reworking an irresponsible cop-out.

2

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

Literary Scholar Andrew H. Miller On Solitude As a Common Bond

Andrew H. Miller's On Not Being Someone Else considers how contemplating other possibilities for one's life is a way of creating meaning in the life one leads.

Music

Fransancisco's "This Woman's Work" Cover Is Inspired By Heartache (premiere)

Indie-folk brothers Fransancisco dedicate their take on Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work" to all mothers who have lost a child.

Film

Rodd Rathjen Discusses 'Buoyancy', His Film About Modern Slavery

Rodd Rathjen's directorial feature debut, Buoyancy, seeks to give a voice to the voiceless men and boys who are victims of slavery in Southeast Asia.

Music

Hear the New, Classic Pop of the Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" (premiere)

The Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" is a pop tune, but pop as heard through ears more attuned to AM radio's glory days rather than streaming playlists and studio trickery.

Music

Blitzen Trapper on the Afterlife, Schizophrenia, Civil Unrest and Our Place in the Cosmos

Influenced by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Blitzen Trapper's new album Holy Smokes, Future Jokes plumbs the comedic horror of the human condition.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Fire in the Time of Coronavirus

If we venture out our front door we might inhale both a deadly virus and pinpoint flakes of ash. If we turn back in fear we may no longer have a door behind us.

Music

Sufjan Stevens' 'The Ascension' Is Mostly Captivating

Even though Sufjan Stevens' The Ascension is sometimes too formulaic or trivial to linger, it's still a very good, enjoyable effort.

Jordan Blum
Music

Chris Smither's "What I Do" Is an Honest Response to Old Questions (premiere + interview)

How does Chris Smither play guitar that way? What impact does New Orleans have on his music? He might not be able to answer those questions directly but he can sure write a song about it.

Music

Sally Anne Morgan Invites Us Into a Metaphorical Safe Space on 'Thread'

With Thread, Sally Anne Morgan shows that traditional folk music is not to be smothered in revivalist praise. It's simply there as a seed with which to plant new gardens.

Music

Godcaster Make the Psych/Funk/Hard Rock Debut of the Year

Godcaster's Long Haired Locusts is a swirling, sloppy mess of guitars, drums, flutes, synths, and apparently whatever else the band had on hand in their Philly basement. It's a highly entertaining and listenable album.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Film

The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.

Music

The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.

Music

Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.

Film

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.

Music

'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"

Music

Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.

Music

The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.