- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 14, 2006

The coming-of-age film has a long tradition. You know the genre — people in their late teens or early 20s who are forced to face growing up, often in a world that doesn’t live up to their idealistic expectations.

But the world has changed. Adolescence is now prolonged by almost a decade — many people don’t really begin to feel like adults until they hit 30. So perhaps the time is right for a new sort of coming-of-age story like the comedy-drama “The Last Kiss.”

Zach Braff (“Scrubs,” “Garden State”) plays Michael, a successful architect who is at long last settling down — albeit against his will. His gorgeous girlfriend, grad student Jenna (Jacinda Barrett, who got her start on MTV’s “The Real World”), has just learned she’s pregnant.

Michael’s life seems to be heading in a happy direction. As he says of Jenna, “If you have to settle down, if you absolutely have to become an adult, have a baby and all that, this is the kind of girl you want to do it with.”

So why can’t he stop thinking about Kim (Rachel Bilson, “The O.C.”)? She’s a young college student who practically throws herself at Michael when she meets him at a friend’s wedding. She knows he’s attached, but that makes no difference to her. Or, increasingly, to Michael.

Attending college parties with Kim, he recaptures a taste of the youth he thought he had to leave behind. He could be happy with Jenna, he thinks, but there’s one thing he simply can’t face: “There are no more surprises.”

“The Last Kiss” is a remake of the 2001 Italian film “L’Ultimo bacio.” Director Tony Goldwyn (“A Walk on the Moon”) and screenwriter Paul Haggis (“Crash”) have transplanted the story to Wisconsin while managing to inject the film now and then with a European feel. Michael’s dilemma seems that of an Italian or Frenchman, while the dialogue sometimes has a continental articulateness. These elements raise what might have been a typical Hollywood film about modern relationships to something more thoughtful — although not to the level of the better European films.

Everyone in this film has relationship problems. Michael’s friend Chris (Casey Affleck) has lost interest in his wife since the birth of their child. Izzy (Michael Weston) can’t get over his ex-girlfriend. Kenny (Eric Christian Olsen) thinks he has it good when he hooks up with the free-spirited Danielle (Cindy Sampson). But “The Last Kiss” seems to imply that no relationship can remain responsibility-free — at least for the man.

The only woman in the movie who seems to want freedom herself is Jenna’s mother. The uneasy standoff between Jenna’s parents (Blythe Danner and Tom Wilkinson) shows that relationships don’t get any easier as time goes by. The mastery by these older actors deepens their roles into something more than just a needed contrast to the younger stories.

Zach Braff, who won a Grammy for his work on the soundtrack of his directorial debut, “Garden State,” also picked songs for “The Last Kiss.” While the songs here — from established alt-rock artists like Coldplay and Aimee Mann and less established ones like Cary Brothers and Joshua Radin — occasionally overpower Michael Penn’s score, they reinforce the idea that this is a coming-of-age tale for a new generation.

**1/2 Two and a half stars

TITLE: “The Last Kiss”

RATING: R (sexuality, nudity and language )

CREDITS: Directed by Tony Goldwyn. Written by Paul Haggis.

RUNNING TIME: 115 minutes


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