Last Kiss
You can spell my divorce R-A-C-H-E-L B-I-L-S-O-N.

Theatrical Release Date: 09/15/2006
Director: Tony Goldwyn
Cast: Zach Braff, Jacinda Barrett, Casey Affleck, Rachel Bilson, Michael Weston, Eric Christian Olsen, Blythe Danner & Tom Wilkinson

I’m not necessarily a fan of remaking foreign films. I understand that different cultures have different points of view and that it’s possible to create a subtly different story by changing the locale and language. Also, sometimes other countries don’t get the chance to appreciate a beautiful film because of the difficulties in mass marketing and distribution.

Still, I think a truly great film will get around to the right people, given the film is truly great. Take “Amelie” for example. There’s no need for an American remake. The word of mouth spread and subsequently, the distributor ponied up the cash to bring the film to a wider audience.

The language argument is bullshit too. If people don’t want to read subtitles, that’s too bad for them. I don’t think going for the lowest common denominator is the right way to go in just about anything.

Still, that doesn’t mean there can’t be an exception to the rule. I’m of course referencing my latest cinematic experience, “The Last Kiss”.

Based on writer/director Gabriele Muccino’s 2001 film “L’Ultimo bacio”, the American remake shifts locals from Italy to Wisconsin and attempts to translate the chaotic entanglements of a group of childhood friends, all exiting their twenties and headed into their dreaded thirties.

I wasn’t necessarily a big fan of the original film. At the time of its release stateside in August of 2002, I was the ripe old age of 25. While I could empathize with the characters, the story didn’t resonate with me quite like the latest version.

Now on the verge of entering into my thirties, the events, emotions and static-chaos that surrounds the core group of childhood buddies is all too familiar. Watching “The Last Kiss” is almost like putting up a funhouse mirror to my life. The details aren’t exact but the basic shape is definitely recognizable.

Getting into specifics, director Tony Goldwyn is able to channel the reworked script (by Paul Haggis of “Million Dollar Baby” and “Crash (2005)” fame) into a tangled web of love, betrayal, frustration and hope. The film is an ensemble piece, with one story being central to the others. This drags the film out somewhat but trying to cram so much into one feature must be daunting so I’ll let it slide (and it was like that in the Italian original anyway).

To depict the menagerie of characters, Goldwyn assembled a mixed cast of veteran, currently hip, and up & coming actors as listed in the review header.

Each does a nice job but the standouts are Barrett and Bilson. Each portray Braff’s love interests; one a pregnant girlfriend and the other a newfound jezebel. And each do so masterfully.

Their beauty is an obvious lure but it is their portrayal of their characters that is so convincing and moving that raises their performances from the stock variety to something much more realistic.

I think anyone who’s been in love can relate and as you fall further down the rabbit hole, you become more and more confused about right and wrong. Just like life, there aren’t many absolutes. Not every question has just one right answer, if it has any at all.

It is this situation that is at the heart of the film and allows the other stories to reverberate like beats from a drum. You can’t have any one story without the others and it is this interconnectedness that elevates the film from average to something more pervasive.

That’s not to say the film is perfect. While there is a nice cameo by Marley Shelton, there is also a dreadful one by Egon himself, Harold Ramis. I guess he’s a close friend of Goldwyn’s or something because I don’t get why he was cast at all.

While his cameo is small, it’s significant and would have been better served by an actor with more range. I love “Ghostbusters” more than the next guy but I’m not the first person to ask about nominating Ramis for any acting awards. He should stick to writing and directing, where I will give him plenty of deserved credit.

Cameos aside, I also thought the film felt a little static. I realize the number of weaving storylines involved make the production of the film much more complicated but I was hoping for some more visual style from Goldwyn. I don’t remember any iconic shots that could have better framed the multiple montages used during some very excellent soundtrack pieces.

Speaking of which, much like his last major film, “Garden State”, I think I heard/read somewhere that Braff had his hand in putting the soundtrack together and it definitely shows. As a big fan of that film and its music, I was suitably pleased with the choices for “The Last Kiss”. There’s something even more connective involved when you already own half the soundtrack.

This only deepened the hold the film had on me from the opening bars of Snow Patrol’s “Chocolate” to Imogen Heap’s “Hide and Seek” to “Reason Why” by Rachel Yamagata. Music and score are vital elements of a film and if there is one thing I give Braff full credit for, it is using music he finds enjoyable.

Rather than just signing whatever band is hot at the moment, he goes with stuff that makes a connection to him. It just so happens that a lot of other people can relate to the same tunes and it makes for a much broader level of entertainment and understanding.

Back to the merits of the film, if you saw the original “L’Ultimo bacio”, I think there is a lot in “The Last Kiss” to compare and contrast. I’m looking forward to rewatching the original to see if my opinion will rise now that I have a more understanding perspective to use.

Additionally, I am willing to admit that my initial reservations about remaking the film were wrong. That isn’t to say I’m not skeptical of the other ones coming to the megaplexes soon.

This month’s “The Departed” is a remake of the Hong Kong film “Infernal Affairs” and there are remakes of two of my favorite foreign films, “Mostly Martha” and “Open Hearts” in the works as well. (The latter by Braff himself ironically enough.)

I guess doing sequels has become somewhat passé and now we’re headed into remaking films in the American language of “we don’t speak anything else and we’re not willing to read while the TV is on”.

All that aside and refocusing this review, I’m giving “The Last Kiss” a 4 out of 5. The acting is generally strong and some of the confrontational moments truly reflect how people are in real life. This is easily in my personal top five of the year but I don’t think it will end up in the top ten best films of the year.

Like “Garden State”, it’s not perfect but it resonates with me near perfectly for where I am right now. If you’re at that stage in your life where all your friends are getting married and having kids and the idea of growing up and becoming an adult isn’t just a fantasy but an all too frustrating reality, “The Last Kiss” will touch a part of your life.

If all you want is escapism, this probably isn’t the film you want but if you’re looking to take stock of where you are, this might be just the ticket.