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Michael and Jenna, having been a couple for three years, want to get married and start a family. These plans seem to be well on their way when Jenna announces that she's pregnant. But Michael is worried that his life and his youth will be over for good. At a wedding of a friend, he meets a free-spirited college co-ed, Kim, who opens his eyes and leads him on a dangerous path away from Jenna. Meanwhile, none of the relationships of the people surrounding Michael and Jenna are happy and stable. Michael's friend Izzy is unwilling to let go of his childhood sweetheart Arianna; Kenny is a handsome stud who fears commitment to his latest conquest Danielle; and Chris is a co-worker who is dominated by his neurotic and overbearing wife over raising their newborn son. Even Jenna's parents, Stephen and Anna, are experiencing problems in their long-suffering marriage. Written by
A slightly problematic, yet excellent and poignant coming-of age film
Although I could never pin-point the one "off thing" about Garden State, I still am in believe that it is one of the best films I have seen in the past few years. Zach Braff really showed his worth with that film, and being an off-fan of Scrubs as well, I looked forward to his next film. It has been two years, but finally we now have The Last Kiss, which was scripted by recent two-time Oscar winner Paul Haggis. I managed to win a double pass to see a sneak preview of the film, and after seeing it, I am very glad that I did.
The Last Kiss centres around Michael (Braff). He is twenty-nine, and like anyone growing up, is conflicted about life. He has a wonderful girlfriend, Jenna (Jacinda Barrett), who just happens to be expecting their child, and life-long friends (the likes of which include Casey Affleck and Eric Christian Olsen). But as he is beginning to go through this crisis, he ends up meeting a young College student named Kim (Rachel Bilson), who becomes totally drawn to Michael after she lays eyes on him during a wedding.
What follows is a somewhat poignant coming-of age story. It is a bit of a departure from the usual work Haggis does, but his work here is just as good as the rest. On one hand, it is nowhere near as good as Garden State, but on the other, it feels more realistic and more mature than it. These are real characters facing real problems, and the fact is that, almost anyone can identify with them. The film stays grounded in reality for its entirety, and rarely deviates off course (unlike some of the strange subplots in State).
While it does focus on Braff's character mainly, there is special attention brought down in many cases to Affleck's character (as Olsen's soul purpose seems to be most of the comedy and/or sex scenes). It is honest and for the most part, absolutely heart-breaking to watch the characters go through life's challenges. But at it's core, like State, it is a film that speaks to the current generation, and tries to make an attempt at letting them know that everyone feels these anxieties, and that they truly are not easy to deal with. I would be lying if I did not say that I saw a little bit of myself and my thoughts in these characters.
The excellent performance here from Braff only continues to prove why he will soon become one of Hollywood's most sought-after actors. While some of the things his character ends up doing over the course of the film may become slightly agitating, his performance does not. Although his facial expression barely changes throughout the film, you can see the genuine emotion he is conveying in his performance. His body language and demeanor is both touching and pitiful (in a good way) at the same time. You really do not know if you want to love or hate this guy through his anxiety-ridden phase, and as a result, Braff really strikes an emotion-chord that probably would never have been even nearly as well developed with any other actor.
Barrett and Bilson really stand out as the women in Braff's characters life. They play their characters so they distinctly different to the point of it being deliciously delightful all at once. The two contrast each other magnificently, from Barrett's wholesomeness to Bilson's devilish sexiness. The happiness and sadness they have to go through is excellent, and again, really gives a sense of realism to the film. They really grow throughout the film, and their chemistry with Braff is an absolute wonder to witness. Supporting turns from Affleck, as well as Blythe Danner and Tom Wilkinson as Jenna's parents are all very well done (although slightly underplayed), and only complement the other three even more so.
The only thing I can really find wrong with the film lies squarely with Haggis' script (which was reportedly edited slightly by Braff). While the film is great, it really does not stay solid on what it is trying to be. Is it a comedy? Is it a drama? It is hard to tell, as scenes that should be purely whimsical are not all that funny, and devastatingly dramatic scenes have the audience laughing hysterically. This only happened in a few instances (the rest of the scenes are either funny or dramatic), but it was downright awkward in many cases. Braff managed to blend the two together quite well for Garden State, and we have seen how masterful Haggis' work is, so why does it all not totally come together here? It really makes for quite the serious question, as the film could have easily slipped in as the best of the year so far, but must contend with being just one of the best.
While the film has a chillingly bizarre problem with its tone, the performances and story more than make up for it. This is an excellent and poignant coming-of age film, and yet another vehicle to show off the work of Braff and Haggis. And with a superb supporting cast to boot, I am unsure of what more to ask for.
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