Thursday, September 14, 2006

What you feel only matters to you.

As reluctant as I am to admit it, Zach Braff is adorable. His directorial debut, Garden State, is too earnest, openhearted, and just plain "golly-gosh" to truly hate. Braff is like the male Amelie, which makes his presence in The Last Kiss extremely disturbing. Because in director Tony Goldwyn's adaptation of a recent Italian film, Braff's impish, hangdog face becomes the vehicle for a neverending torrent of dull-witted, misanthropic bile. He may be cute, but he's completely evil.

Braff plays Michael, a nondescript dude on the verge of thirty who is going to have a baby with his girlfriend of many years, Jenna (Jacinda Barrett). But he's bored, so he flirts with the idea of sleeping with a vapid, smarmy college student named Kim (Rachel Bilson). Michael's hijinks as a sexual predator are juxtaposed with the mind-numbingly offensive exploits of his friends - Chris (Casey Affleck), who enjoys screaming at the mother of his child; Izzy (Michael Weston), who possessively stalks his ex-girlfriend; and Kenny (Eric Christian Olsen), a grinning dipshit who describes his airheaded, indifferent, barely alive fuck buddy as "the perfect woman." Also, Jenna's parents (Tom Wilkinson and Blythe Danner) work through their own mundane marriage troubles. It's not the subject matter I find abhorrent - there have been many fine films about relationships and the growing pains of early adulthood. But The Last Kiss is so witless and free of any original or meaningful insight into its characters that it becomes a hateful, depressing death march. It panders in ugly cliches and lazy, sitcomlike observations - men are superficial and afraid of commitment, women are vindictive shrews, and there is no escaping a lame middle-class existence. And yet a tearful montage set to Coldplay makes the whole world better. Movies like this cause brain fever.

I wish I could say that I'm being hyperbolic, but I'm not. There were some talented people involved in this film - Braff, Wilkinson, Danner - but rather than elevating the material, they sink to its level. I can't decide which is the most disturbing scene of the year, Braff and Bilson's sex scene or the scene where Braff screams "FUCK YOU!" at his pregnant girlfriend. These characters are impossible to like, which wouldn't be a problem if this were directed by Todd Solondz or any director who can find the essential humanity in even the most repugnant characters. But the horrifying thing is, I think we're supposed to love these people. Paul Haggis' script does for infidelity what Crash did for relationships, namely to dumb things down to the point where we can only gawk at the inhuman, cartoonish, feeble-minded characters as they squawk nonsense at each other and wonder "Good lord, who are these people?" I assume at this point that Haggis' script for Million Dollar Baby was actually ghostwritten by Sir Francis Bacon. The Last Kiss is shot like a tampon commercial, and the soundtrack is a sub-Garden State mix tape assembled by Braff. Note to Goldwyn: don't let your star choose the music cues. That is the director's job (that's you). I can't imagine any possible reason why anyone would like this movie.

Here's why The Last Kiss really, really sucks: I am a twentysomething newlywed going through the challenges that these characters are dealing with. This movie is about the exact point that I'm at in my own life. And I cannot relate to one second of it. There's not a single moment in this movie that rings true - it's a complete and utter lie. It's the sort of bullshit that is actually dangerous, as it encourages complacency and adherence to routine. Marriage, and relationships in general, can be an adventure. The Last Kiss reduces life to a funeral procession. A funeral procession set to Coldplay.

Never see this movie, ever.


Steve C. said...

You realize, of course, that this review only makes me want to see it more, if only to justify my utter hatred of Braff that much more...

Andrew Bemis said...

Fair enough, but proceed with extreme caution.