After Zach Braff starred in the quirky coming-of-age comedy Garden State, a move that brought the budding "Scrubs" star's talent in direction and screenwriting to light, he follows it up with his performance in another human transition drama, The Last Kiss. At first glance, it might look like Tony Goldwyn has assembled an unofficial sequel to Braff's film ... which it is, in a roundabout, completely unattached way. Just picture his former depressant, pill-popping character approaching normalcy, only to be thwarted by the uncertainty lying in surrendering to a future that holds "no surprises". Carried over from Italy's original film L'Ultimo Bacio, it relishes in dragging its audience through all the unpleasant arguments, false epiphanies and growing pains that late '20s adults suffer through as a collective -- and they're all unexpectedly precise.
The Last Kiss captures their static emotional gradient to a fault, a time that causes level-minded young professionals to make destructive decisions and poorly-guided failures to grow a pair and start living their life to a fuller extent. Michael (Braff), a successful architect, is at the center of the story as he begins to structure his life around newly-pregnant girlfriend Jenna (Jacinda Barrett). Their relationship mirrors near perfection, filled with playful banter and semi-sexual undertones that convey a sense of enduring comfort between the two. Surrounding them, however, is a bitter network of not-so-successful relationships, complete with Jenna's parents' crumbling 30-year marriage, played well by Tom Wilkinson as the sardonic, emotionally stagnant father and Blythe Danner as the frail mother, and Casey Affleck and Lauren Lee Smith as the flagrant young couple Chris and Lisa with child in tow.
Instability swirls around Michael -- emphasized by his unwillingness to marry Jenna until she can name three couples that have lasted over 5 years of marriage -- which comes to a head when Kim (Rachel Bilson), a college-aged flautist free of responsibility and obligation, approaches him at a friend's wedding with starry eyes and unavoidable attraction. It's impossible to ignore the use of red coloring in her dress and in several subsequent color motifs, as she ignites an alarming spark in Michael that boosts up the central themes within The Last Kiss: fear of finiteness, and a desire for the dangerous unknown. Though I'm a bigger fan of the like-minded trepidation present in Mike Nichols Closer, there's a particularly creative gravity that Tony Goldwyn gives this story that emphasizes the swirling mentalities of their age group. He paints a picture that tries to keep villains and heroes out of the mix, instead giving each character their own evolving range.
The Last Kiss ditches the lightness generated by Braff and Barrett's charm by growing exponentially more realistic and unsettling as the conflicts cascade downwards, seducing unaware filmgoers to look into a painful mirror instead of laughing along with a relationship parody. Director Goldwyn utilizes a bold script to tell its emotive story, instead hallmarking tense performances from a solid ensemble cast that carry empathy to and from its characters. Marketing is a bigger part of a film's success than you might think, and I'm not just talking about the attractiveness of billboards or posters. You're likely to be disappointed if you go into The Last Kiss expecting the cheeky rom-com that it's projected as being, but to go in with the knowledge that it will show us some of those truthful, uglier corners of relationships might just be the right tip-off needed to scoop up potency from its efforts.
Braff's depiction of Michael, largely similar but a bit less-awkward than his Garden State character, receives the most palpable villain moniker of the bunch, though he's clearly influenced by the chaos in Chris' struggles through a "forced" marriage and the allures of the vibrant, free-spirited Kim. But he's not really villainous; his decisions are his own, but there's something about his internal conflict that evokes a sense of humanity dormant in many of us instead of pure antagonism. Jenna, in turn, comes across as the purest of them by being the relationship fantasy girl -- a counterbalance to Kim, who embodies the physically-alluring and lively "fling" fantasy.
Absorbing The Last Kiss and all its bursting drama at face value won't provide pitch-perfect realism, though that's likely not a fault on its assembly. Sure, some of us have endured the full spectrum of arguments that Michael and Jenna will endure, or even pressed through a least a chunk of Chris and Lisa's child-centered gauntlet of emotions. But to have them all clustered into one narrative, along with a psycho ex-boyfriend (Michael Weston) and a flourishing womanizer (Eric Christian Olsen) pulling up the rear in a quadruplet of male friends, is too cluttered for direct belief.
Yet, that's part of the environment for many within that age group, a cleansing wash of sociologically-driven conflicts that work something like Darwinism in the emotional arena. Viewing it as a condensed collage of everything that the age group endures at the time, however, proves more insightful than most will feel comfortable in acknowledging. Though we haven't endured everything that takes place in The Last Kiss, it'd be hard to believe that someone hasn't gone through at least one of the transitioning difficulties. It's in the small piece of their relationship woes that we identify with in the funneled chaos that makes it a success.
Paired with crisply composed visuals from Clint Eastwood's go-to cinematographer Tom Stern (Gran Torino, Million Dollar Baby) and a contemporary musical backdrop, including excellent usage of Imogen Heap's captivating track "Hide and Seek" during a transition sequence, The Last Kiss nails down a fraught yet genuine tone for its dour atmosphere. It captures those painful sequences, from the red-faced argument between warring parents to the point where Michael oversteps and regrets stepping over his bounds in equal measure, in a striking light that taps into our memory databanks by concocting them as vivid reflections on past mistakes that we either could've made -- or did. As a result, Goldwyn's well-acted precursor to thirty-something constancy is a bleak but sincere affair, tying a sense of optimism into our foolish misgivings through the prospects of forgiveness and understanding. It's far from the comedy that it's projected as being, and that's a really good thing.
Video and Audio:
DreamWorks' work with the standard-definition disc for The Last Kiss was of a high quality, projecting a colorful and richly-detailed image of the attractively-shot drama. It makes the visual treatment on this 1080p AVC encode maybe a tad harder to recommend, even though it's a rather strong boost across the spectrum of high-definition bullet points. Preserving the 2.35:1 framing of its theatrical distribution, we're treated to a richer color palette (highly noticeable in flesh tones and clothing, especially Bilson's red dress at the wedding) and a much higher sense of detail representation than its counterpart. But, at a few spots, it's a little softer than expected, as well as sporting some print damage and relatively heavy grain against backdrops.
Some scenes -- especially the entire treehouse conversation and most close-ups involving facial textures -- showcase a healthy boost in clarity, detail and depth of field rendering. This is also especially evident during the bachelor party scene which, during several points, hits a shelf right around 37.5-38.5 Mbps while a broad array of flesh tones, static shadows, and other production elements sneak into the image. Contrast is also improved to an equally substantial degree throughout the film, displaying an excellent array of inky blacks and nice mid-range shadows in softly-lit interior sequences. The Last Kiss looks better than it has previously and will certainly satisfy aficionados of the film, even if it's not the blistering step above that you might expect from the slick cinematography.
In fact, the Dolby TrueHD surprised me more than the image. Of course, we're taking a step from legacy Dolby Digital to HD quality, but The Last Kiss does a great job at expanding outwards from its previous concoction. The surround usage is a big factor in my surprise, using the back for strong ambiance in outdoor sequences. Subtle effects fill the rear channels with outstanding clarity, from the idyllic summertime sounds around Michael and Kim in the treehouse to the rainfall late in the film. Vocal clarity is a bit crisper as well, pushing upwards on the shelf of the audio track a bit more than its counterpart. Moreover, the radiant soundtrack sounds rathergood -- even though it stays more to the front more than I was expecting. It's a great track for the film, supporting the image to a rather strong degree. Subtitles are available in English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and German options to accompany the English TrueHD track, as well as French, Spanish, and German Dolby Digital 5.1 sound options.
Carrying over all of the features from the 2006 standard-definition release and nothing more, The Last Kiss comes equipped with a strong offering of supplements to keep fans of the film busy after screening:
Commentaries with Zach Braff & Tony Goldwyn, Jacinda Barrett, Rachel Bilson, Michael Weston, and Eric Christian Olson:
First, a feature-length "film-maker" style commentary with Goldwyn and Braff starts off the supplements, which is a breezy yet insightful track that shows both director's prowess behind the camera. Braff comes off with a n almost producer-like aura, interconnecting with Tony about casting Rachel Bilson, shooting troubles, and the little differences between the Italian film and the remake. It steers clear of being too stiff and jargon-based, but remains in-depth throughout its time. On the flip side of things, the second commentary track really ramps up the playfulness when most of the young focal cast and Goldwyn get together for a rambunctious, highly reminiscent track. They discuss who was touching what during the more intimate scenes and what from the film the actors had seen, as well as the beauty of their location. They showcase exactly how enjoyable it was to shoot this film, pouring through int heir electricity -- which even turns to cheers and loud outbursts. Lots of fun.
Filmmaker's Perspective (2:33, SD MPEG-2):
Gary Lucchesi and Tony Goldwyn lend interview time ti this short featurette, discussing the honest nature of the film, the story's Italian roots, and the heightened temptation present in people during their late '20s, early '30s.
Getting Together (26:43, SD MPEG-2):
Making it obvious that the structure from Filmmaker's Perspective would carry on to the other featurettes, this feature works as a general assembly featurette with the writers and casting. It focuses on Paul Haggis' penmanship with the adaption, as well as selecting each of the actors for their respective roles. Interview time focuses on their motivations character-by-character, which does its share of back-slapping, but it also conveys Goldwyn's ideals and imaginings in casting when he read the script. Ranging from Braff as Michael to Blythe Danner and Ton Wilkinson as the older couple, it's a nicely-stretched overview that does a sharp job in backing up the American script's character motives.
Behind our Favorite Scenes (8:27, SD MPEG-2):
Each of the cast and crew -- even director Goldwyn -- select their favorite scenes, stretching out across the entire film to more obvious choices. Braff discusses the intimacy in the treehouse sequence, while Goldwyn discusses his more elaborate ideal of an intimate scene between Blythe Danner and Tom Wiklinson late in the picture.
Last Thoughts (3:29, SD MPEG-2):
Rounding out the rest of this series of special features, this snippet closes things on a gushy note by having the cast and crew harp on the themes and messages lying all underneath the picture. It's a nice end to the features, but it's a sizable chunk of material that most moviegoers likely would've already absorbed from the film itself.
Also included are fourteen minutes of Deleted Scenes (14:07, SD MPEG-2), offering a nice mix of extensions and full-blown clipped scenes, a Gag Reel (2:44, SD MPEG-2), a Cary Brothers Music Video Directed by Zach Braff (SD, MPEG-2), and a Theatrical Trailer (HD AVC), the only high-definition supplement.
The Last Kiss was a surprise at first sight, and has remained an enduring and emotional drama with subsequent viewings. Trailers and slogans have it wrong, as it's certainly not "hilarious" or a copycat of Garden State in any way. Instead, this adaptation of the 2001 Italian film is its own beast, a cautionary tale that blends fear and emotion into a stark portrait of late '20s relationships that fits right in with Singles and others of its ilk. Though it has moments of humor sprinkled within, it mostly focuses on the intensity surrounding its messages revolving coming-of-age and forgiveness -- and it's wholly enjoyable for its brave performances and potent emotionality.
Dreamworks' Blu-ray offers a substantial boost in visual and, notably, in aural strength, all while replicating all of the features from the 2006 standard-definition release. Since it's safe for fans to indulge in a nice upgrade and attractively rendered enough for fresh eyes to enjoy its photography and nicely-captured dramatic sequences, this affective and attractively-shot picture comes with a very strong Recommendation in high-definition.