“L’Ultimo Bacio” (“The Last Kiss”) was one of Italy’s most acclaimed films of 2001, a fact which virtually assured it would be remade for American audiences. That inevitability is now a reality, but I still recommend the original — not because I’m a foreign cinema snob who thinks European movies are always better than American ones, but because the original was full of warmth, humor and poignance while the remake is full of rain clouds and navel-gazing.
The subject is generational angst: What are we 30-year-olds supposed to DO with our lives? Michael (Zach Braff), a Wisconsin architect, has a beautiful and loving fiancee, Jenna (Jacinda Barrett), who has just learned that she’s pregnant. Michael is beginning to freak out about everything, doing that Zach Braff thing where he just stares off into space while a hipster-cool tune by Death Cab for Cutie or somebody plays on the soundtrack. And as fate would have it, in the midst of his uncertainty, Michael meets a college student named Kim (Rachel Bilson) who wants to sleep with him, pregnant fiancee or no.
Michael’s friends are in the same directionless boat. Chris (Casey Affleck) is newly married and a father but finding himself being driven crazy by the responsibilities of parenthood. Izzy (Michael Weston) has had his heart broken by a woman and cannot get over her, which problem he has elected to solve by taking a road trip to South America. Kenny (Eric Christian Olsen) sleeps with a different woman every night of the week because he fears commitment (and loves sex, I guess).
Even Jenna’s parents are not immune from the wistfulness, as her mother (Blythe Danner) feels stifled and bored in her marriage to Jenna’s father (Tom Wilkinson) and seeks to rekindle an old flame with a college professor friend (Harold Ramis).
Apart from that subplot, the film (from actor and occasional director Tony Goldwyn) is about the anxiety of 30-year-olds and the fact that “midlife crisis” comes much sooner nowadays than it did for the Baby Boomers. The thing is, Zach Braff already starred in (and wrote and directed) a movie about that, an excellent one called “Garden State.” (For that matter, so did Casey Affleck, in the 2005 indie film “Lonesome Jim.”) It feels like Braff is going back to the same well again, trying to dredge up the same material, and it doesn’t feel as honest as it did the first time. For crying out loud, how genuine can a movie be when its climactic scene is underscored by a Coldplay song? Coldplay is shorthand for “we want to trick white people into thinking they’re feeling something.”
The film has been adapted by Oscar-winning screenwriter Paul Haggis, whose “Million Dollar Baby” and “Crash,” while outstanding and preachy, respectively, aren’t exactly gut-busters. No surprise that his rewrite of “The Last Kiss” is considerably less funny than the original and far more whiny than it ought to be. Boo-hoo, your life was awesome and you screwed it up and now you feel sorry for it. Cry me a river, Wisconsin architect Michael.
That said, there are certain touches that ring true. The college girl, Kim, played by “The O.C.’s” Rachel Bilson, is exactly the sort of starry-eyed 20-year-old one sees at Starbucks, and the fights between Michael and Jenna are alarmingly realistic. There are things to like about all the characters, especially Tom Wilkinson’s loyal and wise old Dad — the only character who doesn’t at some point behave like an idiot. He has the sagacity of a man who has already endured and learned from the experiences of the crazy mixed-up kids in the movie. I want to see HIS story..
C+ (1 hr., 44 min.; )