SK Olympics – The Last Kiss (2006) – Wisconsin, USA

Remember how I wrote after Table 9 Mutant’s review of Dawn of the Dead that I didn’t know Wisconsin was a real place? Guess what? Its only another Wisconsin based entry to the blogathon! This one comes from Josh of JJames Reviews a blog with fantastic reviews and excellent coverage of the Minnesota Film Festival. Take it away Josh.

I am not originally from Madison, Wisconsin, but I did earn a Bachelor of Arts from its university and was born nearby, in the Milwaukee area. Which means The Last Kiss (2006) is a fitting submission to Mikey’s Olympic Competition.

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Screenkicker Olympics – Wisconsin, USA
The Last Kiss (2006) – JJames Reviews

A sometimes muddled and often over-complicated relationship drama that tries to capture the complexities of accepting responsibility, The Last Kiss is ambitious, indeed too ambitious. In it, many couples face crises, so many, in fact, that none of them receive the attention they deserve. The central couple, Michael (Zach Braff) and Jenna (Jacinda Barrett), has recently learned they’re expecting their first child, a fact that prompts Jenna’s parents to pressure them to finally wed. Michael, however, is afraid of commitment and thereby grows increasingly uncomfortable with settling down, so much so that he finds himself sexually tempted by an effervescent, sultry and none-too-subtle, college student named Kim (Rachel Bilson). Kim, unsurprisingly, drives a wedge between Michael and Jenna, a wedge the former foolishly worsens in a series of ill-advised, emotion-based decisions. When his conflict with Jenna explodes, as it surely must, Michael does what he can to regain her trust, including, but not limited to, consulting her father, Stephen (Tom Wilkinson).

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That is already enough material for a 100-minute film. Unfortunately, The Last Kiss has more to offer. Jenna’s parents, Stephen and Anna (Blythe Danner), face a crossroads of their own, while also being involved in their daughter’s troubles. Chris (Casey Affleck), Michael’s best friend, is grappling with the emotional fallout of recently leaving his family, while simultaneously being in conflict with, at various points, both Jenna and Michael.  Then, there is Kim, who does herself no favors by being shortsighted, but who also becomes intimately embroiled in the troubles of veritable strangers much older than she. Even that still isn’t a comprehensive list, however. Also in crisis, for various reasons, are Izzy (Michael Weston), Arianna (Marley Shelton), Kenny (Eric Christian Olson), and more.

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In the end, The Last Kiss cannot support so many characters and subplots. Only Michael is reasonably developed. The rest are archetypes, a fact that is especially shameful in the case of the female characters. Kim is a stereotype of irresponsible youth, and Jenna is . . . well . . . Jenna is so under-written that I’m not sure she has any noticeable traits. And because the characters don’t resonate, the film doesn’t either.

Which is not to say The Last Kiss is terrible. There is emotional potential in the story, and the performances (especially Tom Wilkinson’s) are strong. Plus, director Tony Goldwyn and writer Paul Haggis’ ending is spectacular; suffice to say things are not neatly resolved, a decision that works well given the film’s themes. The Last Kiss, then, is neither great nor terrible, but rather middling – entertaining but average.

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So why did I opt to submit this less-than-terrific film to the Screenkicker Olympics? Because it has an astute sense of setting. In which city? Madison, Wisconsin, of course. While many of the filming locations are not Madisonian, many others are: Bascom Hill; The Terrace; The Memorial Union; campus dorms; the Wisconsin state capitol; State Street; and more. All of these local locations feel make Madison feel exactly as it ought: beautiful, complex and fun. The Last Kiss will not make you fall in love with its characters or its story, but it will make you say, “Wow. I didn’t know Wisconsin was so cool.”

Final Grade for the Film: C

Final Grade for the Film’s Setting: A+

Thanks for the excellent entry Josh. Wisconsin seems like a fascinating place. Between zombies and Zach Braff that’s two Zs that need to be shot in the head. We’re nearly at the finish line folks, only a couple more entries and then it’s all over. Tune in next time for more displays of brilliance.

17 comments

  1. HAHAH! “Between zombies and Zach Braff that’s two z’s that need to be shot in the head.” Brilliant!

    Great review Josh. . . James. Erg! I’ve been referring to you as “James” for so long but I guess I have to actually call you by your first name. Or just maintain what I have been doing. . . .I’m feeling kinda conflicted here. . . .

    Needless to say though, I’m not as conflicted about watching this film. I know exactly what it’ll be like. And it doesn’t much interest me.

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  2. “Thanks for the excellent entry Josh. Wisconsin seems like a fascinating place. Between zombies and Zach Braff that’s two Zs that need to be shot in the head.” You want to shoot J.D? Say what? 🙂

    Thanks for letting me participate.

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  3. Nice review JOSH! I actually never saw this one, but now I am glad I didn’t although it sounds like it could be a quick fun watch. Just for the sake of at least seeing Wisconsin accurately represented since I have never been there myself.

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    • Not all of Wisconsin, mind you. Just Madison. But it does make Madison pretty striking.

      As to the movie . . . no you’re not missing a masterpiece or anything. It has moments that work, but it also has moments that don’t.

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  4. I’m going to quote this like everyone else has: “Between zombies and Zach Braff that’s two Zs that need to be shot in the head.” – Hahaha! You crack me up, Mikey.

    Great review, fellow Wisconsin-person! : ) I feel kind of the same about The Last Kiss but liked it a bit more than you did. Hell, I’m not sure I even knew where it was set when I saw it. I’d like it more if the female characters were stronger and more well-developed. So… We’re either sluts or crazy, possessive girlfriends?? I hate movies that make it seem that way. Wait, maybe I don’t like this movie as much as I thought… Lol ; )

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    • Maybe not. And the female characters are certainly the biggest issue, though not the only one. But Madison? Madison is awesome here.

      And how did you not realize where it was set? (I suppose you never lived in Madison, right, so I shouldn’t be terribly surprised.)

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