Michael (Zach Braff) is 29 and living the dream. He’s got the perfect girlfriend Jenna (Jacinda Barrett) a secure architecture job and a solid support system from his buddies (Casey Affleck Eric Christian Olsen Michael Weston). But when the ramifications of Jenna’s pregnancy begin to set in--“no more surprises ” as he puts it--life is a dream no longer. While in the beginning stages of his early-midlife crisis at peak vulnerability Michael comes upon a very willing and eager college girl Kim (Rachel Bilson) and winds up doing something spontaneous for the first time in forever: Kim. As Michael tries to explain to Jenna what may or may not have transpired on that fateful night her parents (Blythe Danner and Tom Wilkinson) are going through another rough patch in their old decrepit marriage and his friends are tangled up in yuppie blues. It seems no one is ready for his or her last kiss. Ensemble films are generally well acted but Last Kiss’ cast might be Oscar-good. Braff the centerpiece will predictably get flak simply because he’s the ‘It’ dude du jour but don’t hate him just ‘cause everyone likes him. He shows his range more than ever and still maintains his relatability even though he’s out of his career-sustaining element of Mr. Nice/Sensitive Guy. “Voice of a generation” tags are neither accurate nor fair; simply “capable actor” will do. Barrett (Poseidon and yes The Real World!) has good chemistry with Braff and even better emotional sensibilities. She goes loud to soft on a dime--emotionally and decibel-wise--as though she’s been through this nightmare before; let’s hope not! Bilson (The O.C.) makes a very strong feature-film debut although she is there more to serve as the impetus for emotion than to emote herself. The best performances come from Wilkinson the most underemployed actor in the world and Danner. The very embodiment of the devolution of love into ennui they are believable and Danner for her amazing histrionics is deserving of serious (supporting) award consideration.
No this is not Garden State 2 and no Braff did not direct or write. In fact the only true similarity Kiss bears to State is its soundtrack in which Braff did have a hand. Instead it was another actor/director Tony Goldwyn (Ghost: actor; A Walk on the Moon: director) at the helm. Goldwyn’s best ability seems to lie with the high-drama scenes in that no scene turns maudlin on his watch. His style contains a bit of Robert Altman jazz which set against such a superb ensemble cast gives each of the many characters a turn in the crisis carousel: each character’s dilemma has a different distinctive pitch. But writer Paul Haggis (Million Dollar Baby Crash)--who only appears to have written every past current and future movie--gives the film that extra mustard. Haggis manipulates us with high tension but unlike others who’ve come close to his level it’s all always palpable if not always completely plausible. Throw in some of his incredible dialogue and it’s easy to see why he’s been in such high demand since 1977 when he wrote for The Love Boat.