Dir: Tony Goldwyn. US.2006. 105mins.
A group of late twentysomethingsgingerly approaches the big 3-0 in TheLast Kiss, a tiring melodrama that coddles its immature characters.Director Tony Goldwyn has gathered an impressive cast, but Crash Oscar-winning screenwriter Paul Haggis' ponderous adaptationof the Italian hit L'Ultimo Baciostrangles the life from this ensemble picture.

Starring Zach Braff, The Last Kiss(which opens Sept 15 in the USafter it appears at Toronto) bears someresemblance to its lead's whimsical writing-directing debut GardenState, whichsimilarly explored young men's angst in the face of adulthood as well asincorporating earnest indie-rock on its soundtrack.

Domestically, thefilm could play well among twentysomethings whorelate to the characters' existential dilemma and who may be attracted to Braff and heavy mention of Haggis' award-winning work (Million Dollar Baby, Crash) on marketing materials. But withno major box-office draws to tempt the foreign market (Garden Stateearned almost $27m domestically, as opposed to only $9m internationally), thisDreamWorks release will need to rely on strong reviews when it opens beyondhome later in the year. Ancillary markets might also be hampered by the film'slack of marketable stars.

Despite hisdevotion to live-in girlfriend Jenna (JacindaBarrett), successful architect Michael (Braff) findshimself questioning the direction of his life because of her unplannedpregnancy and his imminent 30th birthday. As his male friends experience theirown crises (whether it be a stifling marriage or a dead-end job), the usuallyresponsible Michael enters dangerous waters when he pursues the advances of Kim(Rachel Bilson), a frisky college student.

Starting off asan ensemble piece - one centred on Michael and Jenna but also encompassing histroubled pals and her bickering parents - TheLast Kiss eventually focuses its energy on the romantic triangle betweenMichael, Jenna and Kim as Michael, against his better judgment, lies to hisgirlfriend and sneaks around with the seductive co-ed.

In the initialstages, Michael and Jenna's relationship displays the believable mixture ofstress and committed love familiar to any long-term couple, and the two leadssuccessfully negotiate the transitions from comedy to drama (It's a balancingact that Braff, star of the often poignant TV sitcom Scrubs, manages on a weekly basis.)

But once Michaelpursues Kim, Goldwyn's mannered direction and Haggis' purplish dialogue becomeincreasingly melodramatic and The LastKiss takes on a leaden, stilted air of significance. Thereafter, thecharacters speak to each other almost entirely in "meaningful" monologues,dispensing platitudes about love, adulthood and commitment that feel tootheatrical to work as natural exchanges.

Not even theusually reliable Blythe Danner and Tom Wilkinson, who play Jenna's parents, canwring much pathos from their speech-heavy scenes.

Aside from theheavy-handed tone, The Last Kiss alsocapsizes because of its unmotivated plot twists. The film-makers present Kim asthe fateful catalyst that will jeopardise Michael's lovingrelationship and upend his perfect life, but his infatuation with the studentis baffling: Bilson's role is underwritten, Braff and Bilson's scenes fail togenerate much spark, and the actress seems too girlish to be a legitimateobject of Michael's lust and desire.

While Braff demonstrates an ability to handle a much weightierrole than the one he tackles on Scrubs,he fails to elicit the empathy this potentially unlikeableprotagonist needs to justify his romantic betrayal. Instead of seemingtormented or spiritually adrift, Michael comes across as simply callous, whichmakes his later attempts at reconciliation with Jenna (once he ends his affairwith Kim) particularly unsavoury.

As with his workon Crash, Haggis' screenplay favours melodramaticemotional catharsis over subtle human interactions;nor does Goldwyn help matters by approaching the material with a melancholysolemnity. Infidelity and break-ups can be painful, but The Last Kiss treats these commonplace events as outright tragedy,viewing its characters as helpless victims when they have brought their ownmisery upon themselves through selfish behaviour.

Garden State may have covered similarground, but it wielded a leavening humour in order to satirise and humanise thefoibles of its disillusioned characters. As opposed to The Last Kiss, Braff's film understoodthat twentysomethings may take themselves tooseriously - but it did not expect the audience to do the same.

Production companies
Lakeshore Entertainment

Paramount Pictures

Lakeshore Entertainment

Executive producers
Gabriele Muccino
Eric Reid
Terry A McKay
Harley Tannebaum

Tom Rosenberg
Gary Lucchesi
Andre Lamal
Marcus Viscidi

Paul Haggis
based on the motion picture L'Ultimo Bacio, written by Gabriele Muccino

Tom Stern

Lisa Zeno Churgin

Dan Leigh

Michael Penn

Main cast
Zach Braff
Jacinda Barrett
Casey Affleck
Rachel Bilson
Michael Weston
Eric Christian Olsen
Marley Shelton
Harold Ramis
Blythe Danner
Tom Wilkinson