Do you long for a movie about relationships that isn’t corny, doesn’t lead you along by the hand, isn’t draped in cliche, doesn’t feature characters realizing they love each other as they sing a song together, and pulls no punches when it comes to the awkward or ugly ways that love can dissolve? If so, you’re in the same boat as I was for some time, until I sat down to Zach Braff’s ‘Garden State.’ That film was my first exposure to Braff (who wrote/directed/starred), and it led me to seek him out in other films. The first one I happened upon was ‘The Last Kiss,’ and I was finally satisfied with a film showing the ugly side of love, rather than the recycled, feel good, cookie cutter crap that undeservedly gets the attention that a film like this deserves.
The story is about love, and the twists and turns in the road that lead to, and from, that emotion. Michael (Braff) and his group of friends (Casey Affleck, Michael Weston, and Eric Christian Olsen) are all in various stages of relationships. Michael is 29, afraid of marriage, dreading his upcoming 30th birthday, and is living with Jenna (Jacinda Barrett), who he just found out is pregnant with his child. Chris (Affleck) is in a shell of a marriage with an infant daughter, Izzy (Weston) is having difficulty moving on after a break up, and Kenny (Olsen) is a single free spirit.
When the group attends the wedding of a mutual friend, things begin to change. Michael is approached by Kim (Rachel Bilson of “The O.C.”), a college girl who is looking to have fun, and despite his pregnant girlfriend, Michael finds himself flirting back. Meanwhile, Chris begins to take note of how horrid his relationship has become. Kenny simply hooks up with a young woman at the reception for exactly what he wants: a purely sexual relationship. The uncertainty of life and love is examined not only for this young group, but for adults as well, as Jenna’s parents (Blythe Danner and Tom Wilkinson) once again find themselves at a crossroads in their relationship. The ties that bond will be tested, as Michael delves deeper into an uncertainty that he’s afraid to admit, leading to disastrous results.
‘The Last Kiss’ isn’t an original film, as it's pretty much a direct lift of ‘L’ Ultimo Bacio.’ The funny thing is that, unlike other English reiterations of existing movies like ‘Vanilla Sky’ or ‘Quarantine,’ ‘The Last Kiss’ is actually quite good. Love isn’t treated like a foregone conclusion between characters; rather, it’s a possibility that exists with all of life's other urges and temptations thrown into the mix as well. Additionally, characters aren’t two dimensional caricatures meant for the audience to associate with on a superficial level, but real, developed, emotional, and flawed individuals, which in many ways makes them even easier to relate to. I personally found myself connecting to Michael’s character this time through the film (my second viewing), due to finding out how scary a pregnancy can be first hand, and the loop it can throw a guy through if he wasn’t expecting and ready for it (that, and yeah, gorgeous female collegiates I meet at weddings constantly throw themselves at me...ok, not so much.)
We’re not given perfect characters here. We’re given people who make rash decisions that can change their entire lives, who can overreact at times, only to make their situations worse, and that’s part of the charm of ‘The Last Kiss.’ If every character were given a hurdle, and they all cleared it, the film would be nothing, but the fact that these obstacles are put up and some refuse to even try to jump over them makes for a much stronger tale of base instinct. We’re given both sides of the coin, as well, not some chauvinistic one-sided viewpoint found in many films. Every character is shown with their strengths and weaknesses, their rational and irrational behaviors and reactions to the curves life throws at them.
The only thing I could gripe about concerning the characters' situations is that some of them just seem too convenient. In the beginning of the film they all have different outlooks and perspectives, but they each encounter situations that change who they are. None of the guys in the film stand pat, not even Jenna’s father, whose indifference erodes his marriage. The only character who isn’t given something to overcome, really, is Kim, who merely throws herself at someone, and doesn’t seem to learn from her reckless and selfish approach, who ends her character arc more than likely in the same position she was in prior to her involvement with Michael.
Love is a complex state, one that can be instantaneous for some, or take a lifetime to develop for others. It affects us all in different ways, just as we are all thrown different curves in life. We all have our definitions, our thoughts and ideals, but perhaps Jenna’s dad Stephen says it best, when he bluntly states “Stop talking about love. Every asshole in the world says he loves somebody. It means nothing. It still doesn't mean anything. What you feel only matters to you. It's what you do to the people you say you love, that's what matters. It's the only thing that counts.”
Dreamworks brings ‘The Last Kiss’ to Blu-ray in a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer that does everything that it can with what it’s given. The film has a healthy grain level that is hardly distracting, though it's fairly apparent. Source noise is visible in whites, such as the tiles in bathroom walls, sofas, or sinks. There is also a small amount of dirt and a few scratches that pop on screen, but they aren’t all too frequent and nothing to make a stink about.
The film starts out with a subdued look and a couple of softer shots. Once the wedding reception scene plays out colors begin to blossom, with a healthy mix of pinks and numerous shades of green painting the screen, and from that point forward there is a pretty solid three dimensional feel to the film. Clothing doesn’t jump in it’s detail often, save for the outfit Kim wears to the reception, with it’s white patterns jumping off their red confines, giving a light shine. Skin tones are nice and realistic, while hair constantly has mixed tones from light reflection, giving strands a lighter look in the darker manes. Backgrounds can be a bit less defined than I’d hoped for, but there is some solid and clear definition in foregrounds that can be clearly seen in the deep ridges adorning Braff’s pouty strawberry lips. While this transfer isn’t superb, it is a welcome step up and definitely not a disappointment.
‘The Last Kiss’ features a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix that is a bit of a disappointment. It's immediately notable that the film is amazingly quiet and hushed, especially compared to the volume of the menu, to the point that cranking my receiver was necessary. Before cranking it up, the dialogue was amazingly subdued, almost a mumble. I didn’t have much to worry about, since the film doesn’t have an aggressive sound design for the most part, but when the college party scene hit, having my receiver at a higher level than normal sure wasn’t a blessing, as I felt blown out.
Bass use pops it’s head five times in the film. Yes, I counted. Each time was during a bit of soundtrack, and other than those moments, the .1 in my 5.1 was flatlining. Surround use was extremely minimal, even in crowded scenes. I suppose the ambiance was in the same hospital ward as my subwoofer. Of course, I’m saving the best for last. I noticed a bit of distortion in a few lines of dialogue, that made characters sound robotic, or otherwise completely hollow. It’s amazingly ironic, really, that a film about relationships and fidelity doesn’t have much fidelity. One word of warning, though: if you do as I did and pump up your volume until the dialogue is at an acceptable level, be prepared for when the film ends and the menu pops back up, as you're in for a nice loud treat.
The Blu-ray for ‘The Last Kiss’ directly parallels the DVD release, with a lineup of extras that includes:
‘The Last Kiss’ is a great date night flick, defying the stereotypes of relationship movies, taking a realistic approach rather than pushing the “feel good” crap that has flooded the sub-genre. The characters are more than one dimensional cardboard cut outs, with solid acting from the cast that helps sell the story. The video on this disc is solid but unspectacular, while the audio is a bit subdued, and the supplements are hit-or-miss. Those who passed on this film theatrically, and skipped on the DVD, give it a shot on this third time around.
All disc reviews at High-Def DVD Digest are completed using the best consumer HD home theater products currently on the market. More about our gear.