by Paul Deeter
Spoilers, if you care.
Lately I have been in the habit of returning to watching films I idolized or appreciated when I was a teenager, some of which I still can't defend to this day! A few of these show their signs of wear and tear, some of them don't feel like they've aged a day. It's a wonderfully nostalgic feeling of validity to return to a movie I liked as a teenager and realize it's still good dammit! There's a lot to adore about the Audi's and some of the films in their romantic comedy scene. Some of these movies suffer from political incorrectness; unfortunately the whole "it was a different time" argument is too often used to defend some of the "edgier" jokes in early 2000's sex comedies. Something, something rose-colored glasses. Now I've aged almost 20 years now from the Audis and I like to think I've learned a few things here and there. Like the fact that the music and swagger of Outkast's Idlewild is admirable but the story is held together loosely like its missing some key liner notes in its soundtrack. So, as of yesterday after an unsuccessful return to watching that 2006 sleeper, I decided to watch a movie I had somewhat groggy memory of: The Last Kiss starring Zach Braff of Scrubs fame, directed by long-time actor Tony Goldwyn.
Before I delve into just what doesn't work with this film and the problematic nature of its existence, I'd like to start by saying I thought I was a watching a different film! In my craving for Audi's comedies with Zach Braff and his excellently curated soundtracks, I mistook this film for The Ex. The Ex is another mediocre film (from the same year mind you!) starring Braff in a relationship struggle just as this movie does, and who knows, it might be worse? With that confusion aside, when I started to watch The Last Kiss I slowly realized I had seen this film when it came out, which would have put me at 15 upon first viewing. My memory of this film is so peculiar that I actually remember how I watched it: on a physical disc rental from Netflix. How archaic! All this aside, returning to The Last Kiss will forever permeate my opinion of this movie, which is simply trash. Just terrible.
The Last Kiss could be called a few things, clever title aside. It could be called How to Make an Incel or What Men Want (I think that one's taken.) The mere existence of this problem-child of a movie and its accessibility to stream it today is an issue that I feel passionate enough about that I issue this warning. This movie is dangerous! It dangerously portrays that the structure of a relationship can be tested by jealousy, fighting and infidelity without being irreparably damaged. I allow films a little wiggle room with relationships that suffer slip-ups or affairs and can be fixed with the right mending. Love them or hate them, they sometimes work. HOWEVER! This film pushes our characters into the worst, most unforgivable decisions a boyfriend/husband/lover can make and let's them get away with these choices. Note how I specified the gender of the characters, because this film has a strange idea of the victimization men feel when they gain the responsibility of being in a relationship.
Here are four male characters, Braff included, that are either with women they don't truly love or are lusting after the a toxic idea of romance. Zach Braff is the lead here as Michael a man expecting his first child with his girlfriend, in a relationship pending marriage with apprehensions on his behalf. There are three other characters, including Chris (Casey Affleck) who is in the process of divorcing his wife who bears the brunt work of raising their baby. Then we have Izzy, played by Michael Weston who worked with Braff brilliantly in an arc on Scrubs. In this film he's obsessed with his ex girlfriend. The film finds ways of making jokes out of him stalking her and showing up un announced at her house and punching her new boyfriend. His dangerous actions should be perceived as threatening and manipulative, but he's made out to be a lovable flawed 20-something who can't quite get over the one that got away. Again, another sign that these film tropes are prehistoric, is their belief that mens' actions committed in the name of love are forgivable when they're really acting predatory. Finally we have the one likeable character in the movie's young cast Kenny (played by Eric Christian Olsen, what happened to him?) who is a serial dater and sleeps around with women he meets at weddings and other social events. He is played off to be goofy and promiscuous but he's never emotionally involved enough in his flings to cause any harm to any party involved. His character was the one I could take the most seriously, and he's supposed to be the goofy one. There are of course other characters, including the young female love interest, and the older partners of each of the obnoxious male character, but they're so poorly hashed out I won't spend the energy explaining them. Lord knows the film didn't bother, why should I?
Each of the four men have arcs in the film, but the focus is on Braff naturally. Weirdly though, the movie kind of stops talking about the other three men in the final act too, and there really isn't any conclusion to any of their stories. Oh well, those stories sucked. None of them suck nearly as hard as the story of Michael and his pregnant girlfriend Jenna (Jacinda Barrett) though. Michael is understandably scared of his upcoming role as a father, but he also doesn't understand that his girlfriend is too. Therefore, he feels stuck, and the obnoxious title The Last Kiss reflects his sentiment just like every stupid "Game Over" shirt made for pre-teens at Target. He thinks the game is over, and he's done dating and having sex with younger women. Now before I get too deep into this, I want to say Zach Braff seems like a genuinely good guy, and I have no ill will to his relationship with Florence Pugh, who is significantly younger than he is. One could point parallels between his desire for the younger woman in this film and his current relationship, but I'm choosing not to die on the hill of that argument, because it's simply none of my business. In this film, the appeal of being with a younger woman is glamorized by the excitement of the college-type girl, who goes to parties and kisses in public. When Michael finally does hook up with the young woman, Kim, played by Rachel Bilson in a performance that's way too good for this film, he actually does it in a college dorm room. Yep.
The problem with this film is in the arc of Jenna and Michael's relationship, because as imperfect as a relationship goes, Michael's actions simply go way beyond repair. He lies to his girlfriend to go see Kim at a party, and despite his hesitations after a fight with Jenna, actually has sex with Kim too. The movie doesn't dwell on this decision though, it actually seems to point blame to the promiscuity of the young woman, and her persuasion to be with a married man. She's not fleshed out as a unique character, but instead is used as the idea of the "other girl". Therefore, after her hookup with Michael, she comes to visit him with genuine interest of dating and is seen as clingy and immature by the protagonist who views her only as a mistake, and not a person. It's not just his one mistake, but two. He kisses her at a party after lying to his partner, and then after their fight, goes back to have sex with her. How is this forgivable? The movie even fakes out the first apology in such a toxic way, as to make Michael's decision a simple male slip-up, or something that is not entirely his fault.