In The Last Kiss, a film that is peppered with anguished thirty-somethings - Zach Braff plays Michael, an architect on the other side of twenty-nine. Michael has been with his girlfriend, Jenna (Jacinda Barrett) for about three years, and as the film opens, he is celebrating that she is ten weeks pregnant. Although Michael and Jenna have no plans to marry, both seem excited about becoming parents.
But is Michael as enthusiastic about becoming a parent as he initially lets on? His initial fervor is tempered by a real fear of the predictability of marriage and family life. Jenna is obviously excited, and life for her is currently about sonograms and baby-stuff, but she's also concerned that she'll get fat and that Michael won't love her any more. Jenna's parents Stephen and Anna (Tom Wilkinson and Blythe Danner) thrill at the news, even though their own marriage isn't going too well.
The fact that Michael doesn't want to get married strains the relationship - he even turns to stone at the mention of it - especially when he looks around and sees that his best mates are either having marital problems or are fanatically trying to wrestle clear of it. Chris (Casey Affleck) constantly argues with his wife and has to contend with a constantly screaming baby, he's had enough of marriage and ponders getting a divorce.
Izzy (Michael Weston) has just been dumped by his girlfriend and wants to travel to South America on a motorcycle. And Kenny (Eric Christian Olsen) bartends for a living and has sex for fun, and positively cringes at the slightest sign of commitment. Everything comes to ahead when the guys attend a wedding of a friend and the poor Michael's downfall is suddenly set in motion.
Temptation arrives in the form of Kim (Rachel Bilson), a bright but sexually manipulative college sophomore who starts up a flirtation with the anguished Michael. Kim's a bit childish as she tentatively tests the limits of her sex appeal and its effect on men, she doesn't much care that Michael's got a girlfriend and he's a liar enough not to tell her that he's about to become a dad.
Kim is trouble with a capital T, she's young enough to find it endearing, and kind of exciting, to possibly be able to tempt Michael out of a serious relationship, and deluded enough to think she can play with fire and not get burned.
So begins the game playing, where commitment and loyalty and even love are tested to their very limits, as both Michael and Jenna must learn some difficult truths about themselves and each other. Michael learns about the importance of truth and honesty, whilst Jenna learns that people are essentially flawed and perhaps that relationships should not always be viewed in black and white terms.
Although for some viewers The Last Kiss will recognizably cover familiar territory - it is actually based on an Italian movie - the film does a great job of presenting some timely issues about male commitment and these boy-men who fear the future. Michael's guilt-ridden ambivalence and the way he works though it is obviously the centerpiece of the movie and he's constantly caught between the lovely girl at home and the "little brunet" who keeps tempting him with sex and fun.
The acting is superlative, with all the players giving gritty and meaty performances, especially from the talented veterans Danner and Wilkinson. Even as director Tony Goldwyn piles on all the histrionics and melodrama a bit strong, the film is always compelling and totally convincing in its look at modern, urban upper-middle class relationships.
The reason that The Last Kiss really works though, is that of Zack Braff, who shades his character with such nuance, that he makes Michael sympathetic even when he does some seriously stupid things. As we meet the characters and see their different approaches to romance and commitment, their expectations and fears, we get a story that really does show the hard work that often has to go into making relationships work. Mike Leonard December 06.