Blu-ray Review: The Last Kiss (2006)

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Previously Available Editions

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Million Dollar Baby screenwriter Paul Haggis adapted Gabrielle Muccino’s Italian film L’Ultimo Bacio for director Tony Goldwyn in this superb remake that does an admirable job of navigating viewers through the often messy and sometimes brutally painful evolution and deterioration of relationships.

Although in one of several making-of-featurettes included on DreamWorks Home Entertainment’s brand-new Blu-ray version of the film, Haggis humbly described his job as essentially translating the film into English with the exception of one major different twist as a character in the American film admits to an indiscretion—one can’t help he’s belittling his material since there's nothing European about the work which still feels remarkably accurate three years later.

While most Hollywood films focus on the good times, not too many filmmakers are willing to go the distance in revealing the bad as well as the good in modern long-term romantic couplings. Whether it's through revealing the things we may think but do not say such as when one character confesses that he believed having a child with his beloved would bring them closer together but instead all it's done is make them feel trapped or questioning aloud that if you love someone, why is it we feel the need to have a photo album filled with snapshots “of drunk people in tuxedos to prove it”-- every single one of the characters in the film (whether or not they’re fully developed is to be debated) feels as though they’re someone we could meet walking down the street, or someone we’ve been at one point or another, or someone with whom we’re involved.

Now seeing the 2006 film again on Blu-ray and thus right around the same age bracket as a majority of the characters—Haggis’ dialogue rings truer than ever and illustrates the promise that was to come for the future Oscar winner whose work with Kiss was sweetened by those involved who helped him during the arduous process of financing his upcoming Million Dollar Baby (eventually directed by Clint Eastwood) and Crash.

In a role that couldn’t be any further from his recurring Scrubs character of John Dorian who is prone to fantasies, silliness and childlike naïveté-- Garden State's Zach Braff is excellent as our uncertain and admittedly selfish lead Michael, who at the start of the film faces three life-altering events. Namely these consist of the pregnancy of his long-time girlfriend Jacinda Barrett and the possible commitment issues that go along with it, his thirtieth birthday, and the beginning of a casual flirtation with a young, bright college student (The O.C.'s Rachel Bilson) whom he meets at a wedding that begins to make Michael wonder if he’s really ready to settle down.

It’s the wedding that opens the film that sets the stage for all of the internal crises that follow as director Tony Goldwyn notes in the “Filmmakers Perspective” Blu-ray extra-- the depiction of the perfect relationship is precisely the right jumping-off point to ask “but what happens when [relationships] don't go that way?”

And in answering that, he introduces us to a group of characters all struggling to make sense of their lives in an age where as Bilson’s character notes, “our metabolism” is faster and we’ve begun “to freak out way before our parents” did.

While the film mostly surrounds Michael and his other equally stressed male friends-- all with varying levels of personal crisis of their own-- there is a surprisingly riveting subplot involving Blythe Danner as Barrett’s mother who is going through a rough patch in her marriage to Tom Wilkinson after she admits to an infidelity.

On a second viewing in fact-- it’s Danner and Wilkinson’s courage in showing the evolution of a marriage that’s reached (possibly one of several) breaking points that feels sharper than ever and their performances are both extremely brave-- and par for the course of the rest of the movie-- highly authentic.

Similar to Braff's Garden State, the wonderful soundtrack of Kiss helps make the admittedly dark, intense and sometimes just excruciatingly confrontational themes and moments a bit easier to bear although it’s probably not the best choice for a date movie or a companion feature for a low-key romantic evening in as this is the type of film that could cause an argument, despite raising some valid, mature, and accurate issues.

Likewise, by the end of the film, even though we’d spent so much time with a majority of the characters over the onscreen events of roughly two weeks, I still found myself feeling a sense of incompleteness as-- although we fully understand the male characters--it would’ve definitely been interesting if the females had been given more screen time to wholly understand their points-of-view.

After all, even though as they sing in “As Time Goes By,” “a kiss is still a kiss,” it can mean two incredibly different things to each participant, since in this film and truer to life—going against the lyrics—a sigh isn’t just a sigh but a deeper indication of a unique perspective and one I longed to explore in greater detail.

Perhaps a more challenging filmmaking exercise would’ve been to not simply remake the film but pull it apart and switch it up so that the same situations could’ve been seen from both genders as Haggis proved so deftly capable of in stringing together narratives and layers of characters and situations for his Oscar winning Crash.

Yet as it stands, The Last Kiss is still one of the braver and truer to life “quarter-life" and "mid-life" crisis works Hollywood has produced in years and one that works as a very welcome antidote to the endless string of films about middle-aged men who act like thirteen year old boys currently in vogue at the multiplex.

As producer Gary Lucchesi acknowledges in yet another behind the scenes extra that shares the last thoughts on the film by those involved, he says that he senses American audiences are yearning for more intimacy and more reality in works that feel a bit rawer.

And despite the fact that these are exactly the films that people are running away from now during our economic recession three years later-- for anyone going through any of the “personal inventory” taking as they reach 20, 30, 40, 50, or up there's something reassuring in the realization that it’s a universal and instantly relatable existential crisis and that it’s one that only evolves with age along with our wisdom and relationships.

Featuring multiple commentaries involving both the filmmaker and also the cast as well as greater analysis of certain scenes and an intensive making-of featurette, along with some of the standard requirements like a less than amusing gag reel, deleted scenes, and the Zach Braff directed music video “Ride” by Cary Brothers, the Blu-ray definitely increases the sense of depth perception however the overall picture and sound leave a bit to be desired.

Essentially, within moments you’ll need to punch up the muddied color by tweaking with the brightness or vivid settings on your television or player as well as raising the volume fairly high since the work is filled with intimate, whispery conversations and quiet confessions (that of course counteract the intense blow-up in your face arguments). Thus, a greater balance should have been achieved in the transfer from DVD to justify the price-tag and decision to move the work to Blu-ray without sharpening up the contrast of the image and up-and-down sound that had this reviewer reaching for her remote far too often, ultimately detracting from the overall cinematic experience.

While it’s recommended for those who were a fan but hadn’t yet made the purchase of the film-- those who already own it on DVD may want to give the Blu-ray a rental test-drive before gambling on an upgrade—sort of like weighing one’s options before you say “I do.”