Gabriele Muccino’s 2001 comedy-drama, “The Last Kiss,” is one of the decade’s Italian-language treats: a wise and funny Mediterranean meditation on the perils of marriage and other couplings.
The American remake, written by Paul Haggis (“Crash”) and directed by Tony Goldwyn (“A Walk on the Moon”), is well-cast and mildly entertaining, but it lacks the wit and conviction of the original. Although it’s 10 minutes shorter than Muccino’s film, it feels longer. It doesn’t so much end as expire from lack of energy.
Zach Braff brings his rubber-faced charm to the role of the 29-going-on-30 hero, Michael, whose girlfriend, Jenna (Jacinda Barrett), has just revealed that she’s pregnant. This announcement mostly delights her parents, Anna (Blythe Danner) and Stephen (Tom Wilkinson), but it also puts pressure on the couple to marry, and Michael is restless.
At someone else’s wedding, he meets an aggressive college student, Kim (Rachel Bilson), and shamelessly makes a date with her. At the same time, Anna walks out on Stephen, and Michael’s pals face their own crises: Izzy (Michael Weston) discovers that his childhood sweetheart no longer loves him, while Chris (Casey Affleck) realizes that he wants out of his marriage.
Everyone’s at a turning point, they all make fools of themselves, and age doesn’t necessarily make anyone smarter or less vulnerable. Indeed, Anna and Stephen gradually emerge as the most vivid and recognizable characters. Their 30-year marriage is ruled by willful avoidance of communication, and Danner and Wilkinson welcome every opportunity to demonstrate their characters’ frustration with the status quo.
Danner glows with anger while Wilkinson counters with several maddening levels of indifference. When these two have a spat, he defends himself with jokes while she hurls whatever’s breakable, and they’re almost even. But she knows she won’t have the upper hand until she’s really hurt him, embarrassing her husband at his workplace and announcing an infidelity to a stranger. Danner goes beyond the script to suggest the depths of her character’s rage and humiliation.
What consistently keeps the picture moving forward is the cast. Haggis’ screenplay may be sketchier and less satisfying than the one Muccino wrote, but Goldwyn allows the actors with plenty of opportunities to fill in the blanks.
Weston gave a phenomenal performance as a psychotic kidnapper in “Six Feet Under,” and he’s just as jittery and fascinating a screen presence here. Izzy is pathetic when he’s declaring his undying love for a girl who doesn’t want him, but he’s also baring his soul, and Weston unerringly locates the courage inside the folly.
Bilson (from “The OC”) also does a great deal with a limited role. Kim is a tease, a wedding crasher who’s looking for trouble, and she’s almost as interested in placing Michael in the doghouse as she is in seducing him.
“I could be your last chance at happiness,” she tells him, though she almost can’t help laughing at her own bravado. If the movie had included more moments like that, it might have been a contender.