“The Last Kiss” (2001) – A.J. Hakari

You know what kind of movie I could do without? Those that are all about white people and their problems. But I’m not talking about just any white people; I’m talking about the privileged, upper middle class, financially well-off white people who still manage to find stuff in their lives to bitch and moan about. Being in this position isn’t the easiest way to gain my sympathy, which is why it was so surprising that 2006’s The Last Kiss involved me so much. By means of crafting deep characters and placing them in situations in which I actually rooted for them to persevere, The Last Kiss came across as a compelling drama about being more responsible with your life and actually growing up. But by comparison, its Italian predecessor of the same name does everything wrong that the remake did right, emerging as a two-hour chore of a film that provides about as many likable characters as the Gestapo.

At first glance, Carlo (Stefano Accorsi) seems to have it all. He has a loving girlfriend (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) at his side, he enjoys his job as an ad man, and he’s just learned that he’s about to become a father for the first time. So why does he feel so empty? On the eve of his 30th birthday, Carlo starts getting the nagging feeling that his life is about to take a turn for the mundane before he’s even had the chance to really have fun. This is why when, at a friend’s wedding, he strikes up a conversation with Francesca (Martina Stella), an 18-year-old beauty who tickles his fancy. An innocent chat soon turns into a tryst in the making, as Carlo finds himself constantly thinking about the girl. Meanwhile, his buddies are beginning to go through their own crises, from one friend (Giorgio Pasotti) who finds himself burdened by fatherhood to another (Claudio Santamaria) who spurns his dying father’s wish to take over the family business. As their troubles worsen, so does Carlo’s lust for Francesca, which he scrambles to hide as his girlfriend comes closer to figuring out that something’s amiss.

I hate to boil my review of The Last Kiss down to flat-out comparing it to the remake, but when the two films take on the same story to wildly different effects, the urge to do so is hard to resist. The premise shared by both features is one based in angst and indecision, surrounding that turning point at which we really do have to start acting like adults. The lead character is a man who’s not so ready to leave his wilder days behind him, and this is where the films start to seriously divide. In the remake, Zach Braff could’ve easily come across as some whiny yuppie, but the tender Paul Haggis script and Tony Goldwyn’s delicate direction conveyed his character’s conflict and eventual search for redemption rather brilliantly.

In comparison, the original film’s writer/director, Gabriele Muccino, puts Carlo’s worst traits on full display, depicting him as a lecherous jerk for almost the entire running time and then expecting the audience to be on his side when he starts to feel sorry for himself. There’s a difference between being a bit misguided in life and being too stupid to realize when you’ve got a good thing going for yourself, and Carlo definitely falls into the latter category. As a matter of fact, The Last Kiss is almost solely populated by selfish jerks, all of whom leave their loved ones in the dust as they pursue their own interests. But instead of fitting these characters with any sort of arc that guides them on a path of evolution, they pretty much remain a bunch of louts for the entire film, with Muccino insisting in vain that their respective dramas are worth investing our time and attention into.

There’s nothing tender or heartfelt about The Last Kiss. At heart, it’s a season’s worth of soap operas crammed into two hours, an endurance test to see how many subplots it can load onto your shoulders before you snap and start using the DVD as skeet shooting ammo. Sure, a few beacons of emotional storytelling manage to shine through the darkness. Mezzogiorno is a real beauty and a rather talented actress, and (SPOILER ALERT) when her character learns of Carlo’s affair, you can really sense the hurt and betrayal she’s going through. In fact, as a whole, the performances aren’t necessarily bad, but they do take quite a bit of damage thanks to a lackluster script (the irritating, mile-a-minute delivery of the dialogue doesn’t help, either).

I tend to give foreign films the benefit of the doubt when Hollywood comes calling to remake them. But The Last Kiss is the rare case in which Tinseltown has come out on top, bringing out the true genius of a simple, unassuming story instead of burying it under a mountain of tiresome subplots and enough unlikable characters to make Leatherface cringe.

Rating: ★½☆☆

-A.J. Hakari

Read more of A.J.’s reviews at ReelTalk Movie Reviews, Classic Movie Guide, and Terror Tube.

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