Growing Pains 

Four friends confront adulthood in the earnest, effective The Last Kiss.

Twenty-four years ago, Barry Levinson made Diner, a classic film about a group of twentysomething male friends confronting adulthood in the days surrounding another friend's wedding.

A quarter century later, veteran actor/director Tony Goldwyn (who has worked behind the camera on television series such as Grey's Anatomy and Law & Order since his underdog 1999 directorial debut A Walk on the Moon) offers an update of sorts with The Last Kiss, which tracks four old friends approaching 30 and negotiating different states of romantic crisis.

Most of the film's relationships and developing conflicts are introduced efficiently at a wedding of a fifth friend. On the perimeter of the main plot, playboy bartender Kenny (Eric Christian Olsen) is shocked out of his complacency when his latest conquest seems to be looking for something more, and Izzy (Michael Weston) is stalking an ex-girlfriend while confronting his ill father's impending death. At the center of the film, Michael (Zach Braff) has just found out his longtime girlfriend Jenna (Jacinda Barrett) is pregnant and is panicking about what he perceives as the finality of "making a home" with her, while Chris (Casey Affleck) is increasingly unhappy about his strained home life with his wife Lisa (Lauren Lee Smith) and infant son.

More drama than comedy, The Last Kiss is not as good as Diner, but it might be more honorable. It's like an indie-rock update and with a sexual evolution that the 24-year gap suggests. It's less funny, more earnest, and -- most crucially -- has a much greater interest in and respect for the perspective of the women in the film.

The other movie you can't help but compare it to is Garden State, with which The Last Kiss shares a lead actor (Braff), a supporting player (Weston), an indie/alt soundtrack (here heavy on British bands such as Coldplay, Snow Patrol, and Turin Brakes), and a sensibility.

Braff's character in The Last Kiss is sort of a cousin to his protagonist in Garden State, moving the earlier film's anxiety from mere rootlessness to life-altering decisions about parenthood and marriage. Braff's character is a more active agent in his own troubles here, but the characters have a similarly woozy engagement with adulthood.

This is a very honest film: the rare commercial movie about young adults that is very much for young adults, illustrated by its "R" rating and its not-so-tidy conclusion. There's also some attempt to make the emotional complications The Last Kiss traffics in generationally specific. Rachel Bilson's collegiate seductress utters a key bit of early dialogue: "The world is moving so fast now that we start freaking long before our parents did because we don't ever stop to breathe anymore."

Ultimately, though The Last Kiss courts an audience much like its protagonists (see that soundtrack), it knows better. Tom Wilkinson and Blythe Danner, as Jenna's sometimes estranged parents, offer a constant reminder that though the questions the film's younger protagonists face may be the growing pains of young adulthood, time doesn't always provide an answer.


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