The Last Kiss (DreamWorks SKG, R)

It's a very common horse to beat that Hollywood ruins good foreign films when it remakes them, but this theory isn't entirely true.

 

The Last Kiss stars, among others, Zach Braff, Eric Christian Olsen, Michael Weston, and Casey Affleck.

When I was sitting in the theater waiting for The Last Kiss to start, there was a group of three or four young kids sitting in the press row directly behind me who were talking loudly and generally being annoying. After the film was over, one of them said that he thought that it was an unsuitable follow-up to Garden State, which pissed me off but I ultimately wrote off as a further example of how those kids were stupid and annoying, because Zach Braff, who stars in The Last Kiss, did not write or direct it; it's not any different from saying that Scrubs is an unsuitable follow-up to Garden State. (Before I get a bunch of letters from people eager to correct me, yes, Braff did reportedly have a hand in writing the dialogue in one of the film's final scenes, and yes, he did personally select the songs on the film's soundtrack, but these were just cheap cash-ins on the Garden State phenomenon on the part of the producers of The Last Kiss.)

Paul Haggis, who has won a Best Adapted Screenplay and a Best Original Screenplay Oscar in the past two years, for what were also the last two consecutive Best Picture-winning films (those being last year's Crash and the year before's Million Dollar Baby), is the actual screenwriter on The Last Kiss, so it's absolutely ridiculous to give Braff more credit than he deserves in this case when a heavyweight like Haggis is the one who is actually behind the screenplay. After I had more or less forgotten about the dumb kids' gaffe, I read a few reviews of The Last Kiss online when I got home, and, much to my dismay, many of those film critics, whom I actually know to be intelligent and respectable, made the same mistake of at least implying (if not believing) that Braff had more to do with the production of The Last Kiss than to be a Chad Palomino–ly self-important actor. What's all the more frustrating about this whole scenario is that if you removed Braff from The Last Kiss and replaced him with another similarly likeable actor who didn't have the Garden State cache, the people who liked Garden State would probably also quite like The Last Kiss, as they are similar in tone, target audience, and quality.

The Last Kiss is based on an also good Italian film from 2001, which was released in the U.S. under the title The Last Kiss as well (its original Italian name was L'ultimo bacio; if you like the remake, the original's worth tracking down), which is itself from the Beautiful Girls line of films that star whiny twentysomething males in early midlife crises who are made slightly more stable by the attractive women in their lives. (Come to think of it, the scads and scads of people who hated thirtysomething… when it originally was on the air would do well to avoid this film.) Although to some extent it follows the sprawling, multi-character, multi-arc storytelling format that Crash did, the meat of the story is derived from Braff's Michael, who we find out in the beginning of the film has recently impregnated his longtime girlfriend Jenna (Jacinda Barrett, who seems to be popping up in everything these days), whom he loves very much. Still, that isn't enough to keep him from cheating on her when the opportunity arises with young, gorgeous Kim (Rachel Bilson, who, let's be honest with ourselves here, is attractive to the point that I've actually considered watching The O.C.—though, thankfully, I've never given into this urge). What makes the story work is that Michael, while stupid and behaving very questionably, remains a likeable character throughout the film, and Braff is good at playing the ambiguities here. It's never exactly made very clear why Michael would cheat on Jenna, as it is a very morally corrupt thing to do to someone that Michael admittedly loves, but in Braff and Haggis' hands, it is a decision that seems logical enough to let slide without question, or maybe even to outright sympathize with.

It's a very common horse to beat that Hollywood ruins good foreign films when it remakes them, but this theory isn't entirely true. From time to time, the Hollywood remake winds up being better than the original (for example, the Hollywood version of The Ring is much better than the Japanese original), but The Last Kiss is a very rare example of a Hollywood remake that is exactly as good as the original—no more, no less. This is achieved by the fact that L'ultimo bacio is one of those foreign films that feels like it was a Hollywood film that just happened to have been made in another country: it's very mainstream and accessible (the director of the original, Gabriele Muccino, is a master at that—check out his follow-up, released in America as Remember Me, My Love, to see that it wasn't just a fluke that he made some good mainstream entertainment the once), and thereby nothing is really lost in the translation for common American audiences starring American television stars. The point to all of this is that The Last Kiss is a very good film, and might very well wind up on my list of my ten favorite films of the year, but get the idea out of your head right now that this is some sort of official attempt on Braff's or anyone else's part to follow up Garden State. It isn't.

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