The Last Kiss

In one of the key dramatic scenes in The Last Kiss (IMDB), the 30ish Michael (Zach Braff) confides that “I’ve been thinking about my life lately, and everything feels pretty planned out. There’s no more surprises.” This knowledge leaves Michael feeling as if his life–one that features a lovely pregnant girlfriend, Jenna (Jacinda Barrett), a job as an architect, and an income that would allow him to purchase a home–is “in crisis.” At another point in the film, another character reflects that today’s accelerated culture requires us to grow up too quickly. But as A.O. Scott suggests in his review, Michael “behaves less like a man for whom adulthood is already a burden than like a child for whom maturity is a scary and seductive abstraction.” I’m not sure I’m faulting the film for exploring these questions of “arrested development,” but Michael’s plaintive remarks about his impending (?) adulthood left me feeling a bit perplexed and disappointed.

To be fair to the film, it is at least somewhat honest about the fallibility of romatic love. Michael acts on his pre-midlife crisis by pursuing a flirtation with Kim (Rachel Bilson), a college student he meets at a wedding. At the same time, Michael’s friends are confronting similar crises, with Chris (Casey Affleck) finding himself a new father in a loveless marriage and Izzy dealing with an unpleasant break-up and Kenny refusing to grow up by engaging in as much non-monogomous sex as possible. But the stories never seemed quite as profound as the script seemed to believe they were, as this Village Voice review suggests, and I found it difficult to bring myself to care very much about any of the characters.

Much of my disappointment in the film likely derives from what felt like a relatively thin screenplay by Paul Haggis (of Crash fame or infamy), one that didn’t seem to take much interest at all in its female characters. Jenna, Michael’s longtime girlfriend, seems little more than a foil for allowing Michael to work through his angst about growing up, with her life outside their relationship left virtually unexplored. In fact, despite several mentions of her dissertation, we never learn what her dissertation is about. There are far worse ways to spend a night at the multiplex than seeing The Last Kiss, but I don’t think this film offers much to explain Michael’s malaise and offers even less to explain why someone like Jenna should put up with him in the first place.


  1. zp Said,

    September 19, 2006 @ 10:28 am

    I was going to post today on “How Many Drinks Does it Take to Make ‘The Wedding Crashers’ Funny?” but I felt like I didn’t do quite enough *research* to answer that question . . .

    Still, the (still somewhat) groggy response it did provoke seems somewhat related to the themes you’ve identified – scary impending adulthood, fallibility of romantic love and all this, in both cases, seems to necessitate completely blank and empty female roles . . . I’m sure TLK tries a little harder to be a serious film and TWC tries too hard to be funny . . .

    But, in TWC, at least, I figured the girls are just sort of placeholders – standard bearers for compuslory heteronormativity and/or monogamy? – allowing the boys to work out their more various and liberatory desires in the spaces around them.


  2. Chuck Said,

    September 19, 2006 @ 11:02 am

    Interesting comparison. Like you, I actually find it a little harder to fault Wedding Crashers simply because Wilson and Vaughn weren’t much more than placeholder themselves, but TLK didn’t seem to be the least bit concerned about whether Jenna might be going through some of the same kinds of reservations about (doom! horror!) adulthood. Even the subplot with party-guy Kenny implies that women are trying to trap men into long-term commitments when his sex buddy wants to introduce Kenny to her parents.

    The most “independent” and interesting female character in the film is the mother (Blythe Danner), but that may have as much to do with her skill as an actress as anything in the script. The more I think about this film, the less I like it.

  3. zp Said,

    September 19, 2006 @ 11:59 am

    Blythe Danner takes my breath away.

    And now you know what long time readers of “I Hate the New Yorker” know: Owen Wilson is my muse.

    And that montage of topless women falling into bed in TWC – something about how calculated their toplessness is, how precisely and obviously there their lower underwear is, how uniform the slight variations of their hair and eyes and body and undies are – it made me think of Adorno (or Kracauer?) on Busby Berkley (??) and that kind of absolute horror at mechanized, industrialized, standardized feminine sexuality. Repulsive in it’s homogenized abundance.

  4. Chuck Said,

    September 19, 2006 @ 12:06 pm

    Yeah, Blythe Danner is amazing. Nice reading of the “topless montage.” I’m still tempted to accept the Salon writer’s position that she liked the scene, reading it as allowing for women to share in the sexual independence of the male characters (the context was, in part, a defense of the film for embracing its R rating rather than watering down the sexual aspects of the film).

    But given that the bodies are more or less identical and homogeneous, that sort of undercuts her reading.

  5. zp Said,

    September 19, 2006 @ 1:57 pm

    the point of bring up adorno, kracauer and busby berkely is sort of to argue that that montage does not and cannot (given Hollywood film history) signify sexual pleasure for anyone anymore. it can only parody it.

    in that case, the pleasure enjoyed by the film, and/or offered to the viewers, is in the verbal and physical playfulness of the boys’ relationship. baba ganoush.

    and that’s what i find so frustrating about movie reviews. a lot of wishful thinking and thinking one is reading so daringly when really that film is all about how john and jeremy (or maybe more just john, jeremy has a more beleivable relationship to various sexual pleasures) don’t really like girls and no one can write that film review unless they get explicit permission from the director and the studio and everybody’s mother.

  6. Chuck Said,

    September 19, 2006 @ 2:13 pm

    Ultimately, I read it primarily as parody, too. The use of “Shout,” (a far too obvious choice IMO) underscores the parody.

    I honestly don’t remember the film that well (I went slumming in DC and saw it on opening night), but you’re right, I think, to note that reviews of TWC were far too generous.

  7. zp Said,

    September 19, 2006 @ 2:40 pm

    it’s not that it isn’t a great movie. my wishful thinking is that it somehow engages zizek’s pleasure/duty in a permissive society paradox.

    the film is a chocolate laxative? this is particularly frustrating because i could have sworn i once found/read/heard a list of these pleasure negations from zizek that were actually better than the chocolate laxative example.

    i just can’t figure it out, exactly. definately it has something to do with shout. and wedding cake.

  8. Chuck Said,

    September 19, 2006 @ 2:49 pm

    I’m less familiar with the Zizek concept you’ve cited (he lost me after that notorious 9/11 essay). I’ll have to do some more digging before I start talking about chocolate laxatives and wedding cake.

  9. zp Said,

    September 22, 2006 @ 5:41 pm

    Update about this: “despite several mentions of her dissertation, we never learn what her dissertation is about”

    In TWC Clare Cleary’s job (is that even a name?) is something like, “trying to save the world one poor soul at a time.”

    But in Red Eye Lisa’s job is ass-kicking hotel clerk!!

    Before this week we didn’t even know that there was a Rachel McAdams, but then we went to the video store during a Netflix lull . . . . We each picked a movie (I need to be manipulated into seeing romantic comedies) and, thus, fate brought us to Rachel McAdams.

  10. Chuck Said,

    September 22, 2006 @ 6:23 pm

    Clare Cleary is a fantastic name….But yeah, maybe I shouldn’t be quite so harsh on Last Kiss.

    Haven’t seen “Red Eye,” but I’d love to be an “ass-kicking hotel clerk!” I caught Rachel McAdams originally in “Mean Girls” (she has been busy lately), but I honestly don’t remember her.

  11. zp Said,

    September 23, 2006 @ 11:27 am

    the best thing about “Red Eye” is this intimate/sympathetic perspective on/from customer service work. two parts arlie hochschild’s managed heart, one part mike rowe’s dirty jobs. which i love.

    maybe i need to post on this myself. sorry to go on so long.

  12. Chuck Said,

    September 23, 2006 @ 1:50 pm

    No worries. I did my share of those jobs as a grad student and applaud filmmakers for presenting that work in anything resembling a sympathetic perspective.

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