Writer Paul Haggis, who cut his teeth on TV's "thirtysomething" 20 years ago, must have viewed "The Last Kiss" as a homecoming of sorts: the principal male characters are all on the brink of 30, and the assorted levels of commitment angst throw off a familiar prime-time scent.
Though Haggis didn't direct the film, as he recently did his own Oscar-winning "Crash" script, "The Last Kiss" feels like what might result if "thirtysomething" and "Crash" collided head-on: interlocking, multi-character subplots driven by an impending shift in each character's personal cosmos.
The source for the collision is the 2001 Italian hit, "L'Ultimo bacio," which I haven't seen but which I suspect might have been played a bit more along traditionally broad Italian comedy lines.
Director Tony Goldwyn, the sometimes-actor ("Ghost") and grandson of old-time movie mogul Sam Goldwyn, adopts a fairly even-handed tone here, though not always to the film's benefit. After awhile, the script's schematic nature becomes fairly transparent as each subplot is made to rhyme or reflect on the other a little too closely for comfort.
Michael (Zach Braff, still in a definite "Garden State" state) is turning 30 next month, and as a warm-up present he receives the news that his live-in girlfriend Jenna (Jacinda Barrett) is pregnant. Her excited news triggers more masculine panic over end-of-the-road commitment than any enthusiasm over impending parenthood.
The news comes at a dinner with Jenna's fiftysomething parents, Anna (Blythe Danner) and Stephen (Tom Wilkinson), who get their own matching, middle-aged version of Michael's panic. But it is Anna who bears the brunt of the angst, and Danner gives it its harrowing due through a committed performance that, in a fairer world, would be provided an entire film of its own.
Meanwhile, at a wedding reception, we meet Michael's three cronies, whose individual balancing acts on the brink of thirtysomething supply the film's other subplots.
For starters, unhappily married Chris (Casey Affleck) has found that having a child hasn't patched the rips in his threadbare relationship with wife Lisa (Lauren Lee Smith).
Then there's Izzy (Michael Weston), who's floundering in the wake of a devastating failed relationship with his longtime girlfriend and will soon be contending with a death in the family.
And, to lighten the potentially oppressive mood, there's who-cares-if-I'm-turning-the-big-3-0 Kenny (Eric Christian Olsen), happy-go-lucky sex machine about town. Kenny trips over a kindred partner in carnal desire (Cindy Sampson) several minutes into the reception, followed by considerable entangling of limbs before the day is out.
Haggis, still in the thrall of the similarly schematic "Crash," times his script to the ebbing and flowing of each crisis, although Michael's gets the brunt of the attention, especially after he meets a plucky co-ed at the reception, Kim (Rachel Bilson), whose 20-year-old college sophomore freedom tempts him sorely.
As the subplots shake out along familiar lines, director Goldwyn coaxes some engaging performances from the ensemble, both young and old, though Braff has probably maxed out the potential of this character type now.
Affleck, Weston and Olsen all capture the dynamics of their characters in their episodic turns on the subplot merry-go-round. Among the women, Barrett and Bilson get the showiest emotional workouts as the yin-and-yang forces at work in Michael's life.
Meanwhile, up the generational ladder, Danner wrings every last drop of value she can out of a character that, on paper, probably reads like pure Lifetime movie. Wilkinson, whose character is even sketchier, also mines his limited scenes for maximum shorthand impact.
As pat as the assorted subplots are by design, at least they aren't neatly resolved and tied up with a ribbon come fadeout. Instead, we're left alone in the theater darkness wondering whether any of these relationship-troubled folk have, in fact, administered, or been administered, that metaphorical last smooch.
Craft's Rating: 2 1/2 out of 4 stars
Director: Tony Goldwyn
Writer: Paul Haggis
Cast: Zach Braff, Jacinda Barrett, Casey Affleck, Rachel Bilson, Eric Christian Olsen, Blythe Danner, Tom WIlikinson
Rating: R for sexuality, nudity, language
Running time: 1 hr. 44 min.
Theaters: Palace Cinemas, Bloomington