Lately I’ve noticed the beginnings of a minor backlash against Zach Braff, which is a bit of a mystery to me. As far as I know, he’s not dated J.Lo, he’s not yet made a huge career blunder, he avoids the tabloids for the most part, he stars in one of the absolute best shows on television, and he’s got pretty stellar taste in music. Plus Garden State, for all its overly idiosyncratic imperfections (including a terribly flawed ending), was a beautiful flick about self-realization and emotional awakening with the bittersweet ache of an Elliott Smith melody. Indeed, the worst thing I can say about Zach Braff is that, cinematically at least, he’s become a bit of a contradiction: The poster boy for detached emotional vulnerability, and I think he’s been unfairly linked to that dreaded emo sensibility. I just get the feeling — especially in the blogosphere — that no one appreciates Braff’s earnestness; it doesn’t jibe with our own increasingly outdated use of irony and sarcasm (and no offense, BWE, but it sounds awfully strange for a corporate-owned blog tied to an adult contemporary music channel to refer to Braff’s “highly over-rated brand of psuedo[sic]-indie pretentiousness.” He’s on your site banner, for fuck’s sake! And no one’s calling y’all a “highly over-rated, pseudo-rebellious, second-rate Gawker Media site,” are they?).
But at the risk of inviting a lot of ridicule of my own earnestness, I think there is something infinitely identifiable about Braff, especially his unrestrained sentimentality. For those of us willing to admit it, he captures how we think at 2 a.m. before the morning sun makes our thoughts laughably absurd; he conjures the cliché-ridden phone conversations we have with our girlfriends during a trip away and embodies that embarrassing, blurry-eyed email you send to your crush after a night of drinking that you instantly regret. And I guess that makes Braff an easy target when the lights come up, when the alcohol wears off, and when bloggers run out of Jessica Simpson paparazzi photos to mock.
But I suppose all of this makes Braff’s decision to sign on to a Paul Haggis script (adapted from the Gabriele Mucino film L’Ultimo Bacio) more or less inevitable, since Haggis (Crash) is the pretentious, overly melodramatic screenwriter du jour. My problem with Haggis is not his cloying sentimentality, it’s that his cloying sentimentality didn’t belong in a pseudo-serious film about race relations. But you’d think it would feel right at home in a Zach Braff commitment-phobia flick with a soundtrack featuring Snow Patrol, right?
Umm. No. Actually, it’s fucking awful. Why? Cloying sentimentality completely aside, Haggis is one terrible motherfucking writer, with an ear for dialogue like K-Fed has an ear for hip-hop lyrics. Seriously, I’m not being the least bit hyperbolic when I say that I’ve seen better and more believable writing on “The Young and the Restless.” Why anyone ever decided to let this man have a pen is beyond me. And why a group of reasonably talented actors and actresses would rally around this script is even more mind-boggling, leading me to wonder exactly how much power Scientology has in Hollywood. There is absolutely no reason anyone should’ve allowed this script to be filmed; short of a heavy dose of brainwashing Dianetics and a hostage situation at DreamWorks Studios, it is unfathomable to me that it would get the greenlight.
So, what’s The Last Kiss about? Michael (Braff) is nearing his 30th birthday, he’s in a committed relationship with Jenna (Jacinda Barrett), who is 10 weeks pregnant, and — for reasons never elucidated even slightly — he’s terrified that his life has run out of surprises. So, what does he do? The least surprising thing he could possibly think to do: He sleeps with Kim (Rachel Bilson), a college student he meets at a wedding, who (contrary to what the television spots would have you believe) shares absolutely nothing in common with Natalie Portman’s character in Garden State. In fact, she’s stalkerish, kind of pathetic, and possesses all the charm and whimsy of a cigarette butt or an Excel spreadsheet. So, Michael cheats on Jenna and then is forced to resort to some bullshit ploy to win her back, which basically amounts to a feeble attempt to contract pneumonia.
Meanwhile, Jenna’s parents, Anna (Blythe Danner) and Stephen (Tom Wilkinson), are having their own marital difficulties, though the reasons for their separation are as unclear as the reasons for their eventual reconciliation — let’s just say it has something to do with Dr. Spengler and leave it at that. There’s also a slightly psychotic guy (Kenny Weston) who is having trouble getting over a break-up, and another guy (Eric Christian Olsen) who’d rather flee the country than meet a girl’s parents. And the only actor that manages to escape the film without embarrassing himself too horribly is Casey Affleck, who plays a guy feeling trapped by his wife’s (Lauren Lee Smith) control issues surrounding their baby. In fact, Affleck only manages to get out mostly unscathed because he gets to hold an infant, who is incapable of reciting any of Haggis’ absurd dialogue.
And for anyone wondering what the hell Rachel Bilson is doing in a Zach Braff film, you’re looking at it the wrong way. The real question is what the fuck Zach Braff is doing in a Rachel Bilson film, because she’s the only actor in the entire movie who actually belongs, though even then it’s a step-down from “The O.C.” Hell, I’d have been content enough if The Last Kiss was another “Emo McHipster” flick, or even a Garden State redux. Unfortunately, it’s neither; instead, it’s a dreadful Matthew McConaughey romantic comedy without the slightest bit of humor. Every single second in The Last Kiss is contrived, melodramatic, and plain fucking dumb. When Jenna asks Michael, “Do you have something deep within you waiting to get out?” and he farts, you know you’ve been fucked by the marketing department at DreamWorks. There is nothing in The Last Kiss that remotely resembles what is suggested by its trailer. Hell, it’s not even a Zach Braff vehicle: It’s an ensemble film, and he’s only in one of many “interwoven” storylines (and by “interwoven” I mean forced, sloppily edited, and glued together by a Coldplay song). I’d have given anything for a “highly-rated brand of pseudo-indie pretentiousness” instead of this manufactured excuse for a relationship film with all the manipulative force of an emphysemic whistle. The entire thing’s a goddamn travesty and, though I’d have had to see it whether I wanted to or not, I still feel like a giant putz for getting my hopes up.
Watch The Last Kiss trailer.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. He lives in a blue house with his wife in a hippie colony/college town in upstate New York. You may email him, or leave a comment below.Lemme Ask You a Quick Question: Are You Trying to Make my Head Explode?
Film | September 16, 2006 | Comments ()