The Last Kiss deserves praise for a number of pluses. As a study of troubled relationships, it's honest and well acted. It wants to look carefully at the various sources of unrest, featuring no less than three major plotlines about couples hitting a big bump in the road, and focuses on one in particular -- that of Michael (Zach Braff) and Jenna (Jacinda Barrett). They're in a three-year relationship and Jenna is newly pregnant, yet the pair has not yet married. Michael, however, goes through that commonly depicted male crisis where marriage means closing the door to youth and its freedoms, and his panic leads to mistakes -- in his case, her name is Kim (Rachel Bilson).
And while the movie, a remake of a 2001 Italian film (Gabriele Muccino's L'Ultimo bacio), is mounted well, with situations both lightly humorous and awkwardly real, I did have to wonder, in the end, what its point was. The paths taken in this story felt inevitable. Given certain situations, there are only a few places it can go, and maybe fewer ways it could end. And what we learn is something we may already know -- that it's easy to give in to weakness and "falter," as Michael puts it, and that a good relationship takes hard work and dedication.
Thus, watching The Last Kiss feels like watching a couple going through the motions. It creates a scenario -- practically a hypothesis -- and watches it roll. Let a man feel the pinch of impending full commitment (to what others call a perfect woman, no less), then place easy temptation in front of him (she actually might be a little too easy, so willing is she to create close contact situations with him). If he resists easy temptation, we have no story, so let him succumb to it, and watch how he deals with the subsequent drama.
Curiously, the movie's realistic depiction of this situation is both a strength and a liability. The realism gives us emotional identification, but it also requires that none of the actions and reactions are particularly surprising. Thus, it may be about as entertaining as watching your couple friends go through a similar relationship struggle. A lot of what we witness here feels like real world experiences we may have witnessed elsewhere -- and that's information that can lead both to a recommendation and a warning.
If The Last Kiss has an element of uniqueness to present, it would be its inclusion of its subplots, which all show different ways a relationship can go sour. One married couple rifts over the care of their baby; and Jenna's parents are the final major couple featured, where her mother (Blythe Danner) frets about her marriage's lack of passion. Together, they provide a caution sign about marriages formed out of convenience and illustrate how one member of a couple withholding discontent creates an unfair and hurtful situation for the other. Actually, withheld or revealed, one-sided discontent is going to hurt no matter what.
The various complexities shown here give The Last Kiss a boost in ambition. Alas, by making Michael and Jenna the main concern, the movie opts for the simplest relationship situation to primarily depict -- careless infidelity and fallout. When the third act contains relationship advice and lectures and a desperate plea for redemption, the situations just feel familiar, and the movie unfortunately finishes with its foot over the fine line into mundane territory.
(Released by Paramount Pictures/DreamWorks and rated “R” for sexuality, nudity and language.)
Review also posted at www.windowtothemovies.com.