Why is Zach Braff so goddamned appealing? That is the question I ask after seeing his new movie The Last Kiss? It’s not like he’s got typical movie star good looks or that he’s such a fabulous actor. Perhaps it’s because he’s like every guy I ever had a crush on during high school and college – slightly dorky, but cute enough to not repulse me, with a kickass sense of humor. Yeah, that pretty much sums up Zach Braff. Or maybe it’s because he’s got the most luscious pair of lips I’ve ever seen?
Regardless, I’ve pretty much resigned myself to seeing any and all Zach Braff vehicles (save for maybe Chicken Little – hey, I have standards), ever since his brilliant directorial debut Garden State. This is why I jumped at the chance to attend a pre-release screening of The Last Kiss. Not that this new movie is directed by Zach Braff, or even written by Zach Braff. But let’s face it. It’s a Zach Braff movie, for all intents and purposes.
The premise for The Last Kiss is not unfamiliar or unlike any run-of-the-mill romantic comedy. Four longtime friends reach a crossroads together. They are all at very different stages in life, and yet, they can all somehow relate to each other’s dilemmas, despite having grown into very different people. Add in some awkward sexual situations and one-liners, and there you have it. But truly, there’s a bit more to The Last Kiss than meets the eye.
Based on the Italian film L’ultimo bacio, the story centers around Michael (Braff) whose life is on the verge. He’s nearing 30. His live-in girlfriend Jenna, played by Jacinda Barrett, just discovered she’s pregnant. All of his peers are settling down and getting married. But surprise! Michael suddenly feels trapped and wonders if there’s more to life than what’s already been carved out for his future.
Cue the entrance of Kim, the younger and more vixen-y version of Michael’s girlfriend, played by Rachel Bilson. Michael meets Kim at a friend’s wedding and is instantly intrigued by her plucky candidness. Despite his telling her that he has a girlfriend (but not that she’s pregnant), Kim pursues Michael hard and fast, while Michael is sent into a tailspin of emotions that run the gamut of love, lust, and guilt. And thus begins the dance of “will he, or won’t he” that might jeopardize his relationship with the seemingly perfect Jenna for a fleeting tryst with Kim, just to make him feel for a second like the life he once knew didn’t die the moment he toasted to becoming a father with the in-laws.
If there is one thing that keeps The Last Kiss from entering the schmaltzy territory where most romantic comedies ultimately find their untimely death is how true most of the dialog rings, especially with the 20-something generation. While we appreciate intelligent conversation and vocabulary used only in movies, we also want realness. Such is the moment when Jenna asks Michael to open up and let out what he’s feeling about the baby and possibly buying a house. He hems and haws a bit, and then lets out a big fart. Man, I wish I could count on one hand how many times THAT has happened to me. But alas, I would need like a dozen hands.
While hilarious, that moment is a perfect example of how Michael is not quite ready to deal with the reality of his life. All around him, too, his friends are experiencing their own relationship drama, including Jenna’s parents, who after 30 years of marriage suddenly consider separation. Jenna’s mom Anna, played the always-luminous Blythe Danner, revisits the ghost of previous infidelity on her part and decides to leave her stoic husband Stephen, played by a somewhat understated Tom Wilkinson. The dissolution of their ostensibly solid marriage is much to the dismay of Jenna, who thought her parent’s relationship would go the distance.
While Zach Braff is the star of The Last Kiss, another noteworthy performance comes from a suddenly grown-up Casey Affleck, who plays Michael’s friend Chris. It’s truly amazing how much Casey is starting to look like his older brother Ben. Thankfully, Casey was also blessed with the ability to act his way out of a paper bag. And Rachel Bilson plays an annoying college student to perfection. Seriously, I wanted to slap her, which I suppose is the sign of a good actress, if she can make the philandering star look as though he had no choice but to cheat on his girlfriend.
It should also be noted that Zach Braff produced the soundtrack to The Last Kiss, which shouldn’t be a surprise to fans of the wildly popular Braff-produced Garden State soundtrack. He truly has a talent for choosing the right songs for the right moments, such as Coldplay’s “Warning Sign,” during an extended scene that shows all the characters coming to terms with their lives in different ways. Braff also has a knack for picking artists whose music seems to represent our generation’s angst, for lack of a better word. The soundtrack is peppered with tracks by Fiona Apple, Aimee Mann, Snow Patrol, Ray LaMontagne, Imogen Heap, and Rachael Yamagata, as well as some Garden State soundtrack artists, such as Cary Brothers and Remy Zero.
All in all, The Last Kiss is a good effort. It’s got humor, drama, wit, and of course, Zach Braff. And truly, can you go wrong with that combination? It’s a movie that speaks to my generation in so many ways, and for that, I am truly appreciative of The Last Kiss, for what that’s worth. The movie opens wide September 15.