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The Post-Graduate 

Tony Goldwyn's The Last Kiss reminds me of the last scene in Mike Nichols' great 1967 comedy The Graduate. Fresh out of college and worried about his future, Dustin Hoffman begins sleeping with Anne Bancroft, his dad's business partner's wife, then inconsiderately falls in love with Bancroft's daughter Katherine Ross. In the last scene, Hoffman and Ross have defied their families and run off together, but the dazed look on their harried faces stands as a counterpoint to their giddy escape. "Now what?" they both seem to be thinking. Rejecting expectation is easy compared to settling in for the long haul. Set in a vastly different world four decades later, The Last Kiss explores the same territory. It's fun to live in a world where you can pretend to be an adult. But it's a lot more daunting actually having to be one.

Adapted by Oscar winner Paul Haggis from Gabriele Muccio's 2001 Italian comedy L'Ultimo Bacio, The Last Kiss is the story of Michael (Zach Braff), a Madison, Wis., architect living the good life with his beautiful, graduate-student girlfriend Jenna (Jacinda Barrett). As he nears age 30, Michael has a good job. He and Jenna have a nice apartment in a leafy subdivision. And Jenna gives Michael plenty of space to hang with his longtime buds. Life for Michael is a long, pleasant extension of college, only with more order and the reliable sexual delights and comfortable friendship he enjoys with Jenna. The trouble on his horizon is exemplified in the lives of his pals. Chris (Casey Affleck) is a new father, and he and his wife Lisa (Lauren Lee Smith) are both exhausted and miserable. Sexual athlete Kenny (Eric Christian Olsen) is the champion of one-night stands. And Izzy (Michael Weston) continues to pursue a girl who dumped him. These buddies represent an array of sudden fates Michael will shortly face.

At the outset, Michael regards himself as a model of contentment compared to his friends. Then Jenna announces that she's pregnant. And a quiet panic leads to irresponsible behavior with nigh disastrous domestic consequences. When they are alone together, Michael says all the right things to Jenna. He assures her of his love and loyalty. But we can see a wildness of cornered fear in his eyes, especially when the couple announces the pregnancy to Jenna's parents, Anna (Blythe Danner) and Stephen (Tom Wilkinson). Michael and Jenna have felt committed to each other, but they've never planned a wedding, and the child they've conceived is an accident. Michael pretends to be happy about this development, but actually, he's terrified.

And temptation comes knocking in the enticing shape of Kim (Rachel Bilson), a Wisconsin sophomore with enough experience to know how to seduce a man sexually and enough innocence to believe that a nocturnal roll in the hay implies a commitment of some kind in the morning to come. The filmmakers handle this stage of the narrative with great skill. Kim is luscious. And when she boldly flirts with Michael at a wedding reception, we can understand why he'd find her attentions flattering. In order to sustain the sparks a few moments longer, we can almost forgive Michael for failing to mention that he has a live-in girlfriend. (I should say I was almost able to forgive him; my wife Joyce forgave him not.) The wedding ends with no damage done, and when Kim suggests Michael stop by a place she hangs out sometime, we know that's an invitation he should acknowledge and instantly forget. But, of course, then there'd be no movie.

My wife has a notion that the concept of original sin refers to the male libido. Jimmy Carter was as much a sinner for that lust in his heart as Bill Clinton for that Monica in his cloakroom. So in Joyce's view, Michael steps across the line the minute he licks his lips over a lingerie model. I tend to think his sin begins when he drops by Kim's hangout. Put yourself in harm's way, don't complain about getting shot. The movie wants to reserve the foul for the kiss, but Jenna pretty much agrees with Joyce. The infidelity happens before even the first parts of bodies touch. The question here is how much damage Michael will do. Will he decide to grow up, and if so, will it be too late?

The Last Kiss is notable for its uncommon honesty. It won't have the staying power of a picture like Barry Levinson's Diner, which deals with many of the same issues, because it fails to develop its secondary characters in as much depth. But whereas most American films would go squishy-cutesy with this material, would hype the sex and hide behind slapstick to whitewash the heartache, The Last Kiss stays bluntly real. The picture delivers some laughs but along with it anguish appropriate to the material. As in our own lives, no one gets by without scars.

click to enlarge Michael (Zach Braff) wavers on his commitment to Jenna - (Jacinda Barrett) when he finds out she's pregnant. - (C) DREAMWORKS AND LAKESHORE ENTERTAINMENT GROUP
  • (c) DreamWorks and Lakeshore Entertainment Group
  • Michael (Zach Braff) wavers on his commitment to Jenna (Jacinda Barrett) when he finds out she's pregnant.
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