Braff’s latest movie offers more personal conflicts and emotion

Andrew Gaug

There are a few things that strike a chord with college audiences, while others don’t see what the hype is about. These things include Dane Cook, indie-rock and now – Zach Braff movies.

The “Scrubs” star hit it big in 2004 when Braff’s Garden State slowly gained an audience through word-of-mouth and hit it big on DVD.

Braff’s latest film, The Last Kiss, follows the basic Garden State template, but this time it’s written by Oscar-winning Crash writer Paul Haggis and helmed by “Grey’s Anatomy” director Tony Goldwyn – not that you would be able to tell.

Still present are indie-rock songs from college radio bands like Snow Patrol and Imogen Heap instead of a traditional score. Braff’s character is a bit older, almost 30, but is similar to his Garden State character by having to deal with the plethora of personal woes in his life.

Braff plays Michael, an architect who has a perfect relationship with his now-pregnant girlfriend, Jenna (played excellently by Poseidon‘s Jacinda Barrett). But after hints of marriage from her parents, Michael freaks out at the thought of staying monogamous for the rest of his life.

Enter “The O.C’s” Rachel Bilson, a beautiful, young college student who eventually becomes the temptress in his life after coming on to him in the most unsubtle ways.

Along with Michael’s storyline, coinciding subplots involving Michael’s deadbeat friends and Jenna’s parents follow other characters also going through various stages of rocky relationships.

For a movie, the film is a tough ride because it doesn’t want to be a romantic comedy, nor does it want to be a straight-faced drama. Haggis flexes his dramatic muscle that made movies like Crash and Million Dollar Baby so compelling.

Thankfully, the movie balances the drama with random, punchy comedic moments that come out of nowhere and lifts the movie from its gloomy mood for a few moments. Scenes such as the neighbors watching Michael and Jenna as they argue break up the monotony of yet another fight in the movie’s almost-2 hour running time.

The main problem the movie has is, although the characters are going their own respective conflicts, none of them are people the audience can feel sorry for.

Bilson’s character is a one-dimensional floozy. While female characters are mainly whiny and complacent. Subsequent characters are fleshed-out, but the only ones who end up having some sort of role are Jenna’s parents – Eternal Sunshine‘s Tom Wilkinson and Meet The Parents‘ Blythe Danner – who anchor both Michael and Jenna’s relationship as well as the acting quality of the film.

The movie’s lack of focus gets the best of it by the end when it sacrifices incredible realism to look at troubled relationships for a schmaltzy rom-com ending that, despite being ambiguous, seems to compromise all that the film built up to.

Kudos to Haggis and Goldwyn for making a film that isn’t afraid to show an unflinching look at relationships amidst personal crisis. With a little more focus it could have been on par with Haggis’ better films. For now, it’s a decent follow-up for those looking to get a second helping of Garden State‘s shaky, emotional core.

Contact ALL editor Andrew Gaug at [email protected]

The Last Kiss

Directed by Tony Goldwyn

Starring Zach Braff, Jacinda Barrett, Rachel Bilson, Tom Wilkinson, Blythe Danner

Distributed by Paramount Pictures

Rated R for sexuality, nudity and language.

Stater rating (out of five): ???