Those 20-somethings, poor dears, can never catch a break in the movies. First this maligned generation is told, in countless gritty indies and perky studio comedies, that they’re rowing through life without oars. Now, director Tony Goldwyn’s admirably understated handling of dispiritingly slender material in The Last Kiss suggests that if you’re pushing 30, you’re likely to be fuddy-duddy before your time. Evidently, that’s a good thing.
The topic sentence of Paul Haggis’ screenplay (adapted from Gabriele Muccino’s milquetoast 2001 movie of the same name) whacks you over the head early on, when 29-year-old Michael (Zach Braff), a slacker disguised as an architect, announces in desperation that everyone he knows is “in crisis.” Never mind that he and everyone he knows are a tad young to be wringing their hands over hearth and home versus the wild side, but there it is. Michael, whose girlfriend Jenna (a poised Jacinda Barrett) is several weeks into her first pregnancy, signals his panicked unreadiness for fatherhood by affirming his undying love for the strong and steady Jenna while gazing into the middle distance with furrowed brow. Their immediate circle of friends — some old before their time, some unattractively parked in Never Never Land — face (or rather do their darnedest to avoid) similar life-cycle dilemmas, and it comes as no surprise when a coopful of chickens comes to roost at the lavish wedding of a foolishly radiant acquaintance. Fielding a come-hither glance from firm-young-fleshed Kim (The OC’s Rachel Bilson), a chipper college student whose assets include an overweening affection for the color purple and the pronunciation of “crisises” with the barest hint of an adorable lithp, Michael sets limply about throwing away what’s best in his life, while his best pals, each according to his type, follow suit. Chris (Casey Affleck) is trying to reconcile new fatherhood with a dead-in-the-water marriage, while Izzy (Michael Weston), smarting over being dumped by his girlfriend, and Kenny (Eric Christian Olsen), ready to bed any woman as allergic to monogamy as he is, doggedly pursue the kind of single life that wouldn’t appeal to a dog.
Goldwyn, an actor who turned director with the delightful 1999 drama A Walk on the Moon, directs here with a precise appreciation for those moments when life forces into the open the unhappiness you’ve been stubbornly sitting on for years. (In one of the movie’s best and, significantly, wordless scenes, Jenna’s mother [Blythe Danner] holes up under a table, her aristocratic features puckered into a silent scream.) Still, for a movie that’s morally tilted toward the virtues of shacking up and settling down, The Last Kiss takes a dreary view of matrimony’s uxorious pleasures. Maybe on the tender cusp of 30, marriage ought to look a little drab, but even Jenna’s lovingly concerned parents (played by Danner and Tom Wilkinson), who might be expected to have earned the right to fly the flag for domestic bliss, are deep in you’ve-never-understood-me doo-doo of their own, and when Wilkinson finally ponies up with the inevitable voice of experience to his errant future son-in-law, the words don’t measure up to the actor’s customary skilled delivery. Haggis can write a good one-liner, but he has a bad habit of shouting at the audience, and what worked for the over-the-top hysteria that was Crash feels like too much information, too loudly offered, in a putative chamber piece.
As for Braff, on whose performance the movie’s drama and its comedy depend, he has schleppy charm to burn, but no range whatsoever. Like many actors who come out of television comedy, he can’t stop wooing the audience for a smile and a tear — or worse, both at once. Michael is a thin variant of Braff’s comatose TV actor in Garden State, who grows all too clearly out of his luckless schlemiel of an intern on Scrubs. How to build a movie out of someone whose idea of self-redemption is squatting on his beloved’s porch in the rain? The only person who’s having anything resembling a good time in the whole forlorn caper is Kenny, and he adds up to not much more than an unusually active pair of bare buttocks — fetching in the short run, but not much cop for the long haul. The Last Kiss isn’t terrible, but if you’re strapped for a night out, it can easily wait till DVD. Better yet, it may be time to revisit Diner.
Despite its title, Confetti, a chaotic mockumentary in the finest tradition of English vulgarity, has nothing whatever to say about marriage. It’s a loud belch in the face of a billion-dollar wedding industry that has sprung up to service the longings of the post-feminist young for ceremonial opulence. Broad as a beam and blithely treading on every politically correct toe in sight, Confetti is too tied to situation comedy to function as satire — which works to its advantage, for the movie manages to slag off beautifully on the honchos of reality television without patronizing either the form or the fame-and-fortune-hungry multitudes who queue up for their 15 minutes.
The movie’s fertile subject is themed marriage ceremonies, and the conceit is a contest, carelessly hatched over a liquid lunch by the publishers of a glossy wedding magazine, between three engaged couples to come up with the best gimmick for their nuptial hours, with the winner scoring a million-dollar mansion in which to embark on their connubial bliss. A couple of giddy wedding planners (played in a key of buoyant poofterism by Vincent Franklin and Jason Watkins) will help them realize their dreams of getting spliced, respectively, while playing tennis, while stark naked, and while dancing a Busby Berkeley spectacular. That all three couples are utterly useless in their chosen fields of performance goes without saying. But as preparations for the competition videos get under way, the couples’ lack of talent or finesse pales before the aggravations of meddlesome friends and family, prominent among them a terrific Alison Steadman, former wife and collaborator of Mike Leigh, as an interfering mum with a basilisk stare guaranteed to freeze the balls off the hapless planners.
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Indeed, Confetti, cobbled together by a pack of ad-libbing British comedians, plays like an anarchic parody of Mike Leigh’s increasingly ossified and earnest method of workshopping and improvisation. In lesser hands, this could rapidly decline into summer-camp burlesque — as it’s sort of meant to — but director Debbie Isitt handily exploits the radical promise of live reality programming to subvert the aims of its managers by running exuberantly out of control. The rollicking and ineffably sweet final wedding sequences offer a rambunctious poke in the eye of television’s mania for tight control, its congenital antipathy to dead space or spontaneity. Isitt herself seems to have almost limitless tolerance for the unscripted — her large professional ensemble is sprinkled with real-life figures, including a Spanish tennis coach named “Hey-Soos” who was brought in to coach the actors and stayed to mediate their characters’ endless bickering.
As always, the ever-so-humble come out tops, yet Confetti comes not to emulate, but to rescue us from, the seemingly endless stream of cookie-cutter British comedies — the lazy-minded spawn of The Full Monty — about workers moving on up through soccer, song and dance, or flashing their tits for a good cause. And if nothing else, this affectionately off-the-wall confection offers exuberant confirmation of every suspicion you might have ever had that the English are charmingly eccentric. They’re barking mad.
THE LAST KISS | Directed by TONY GOLDWYN | Written by PAUL HAGGIS, based on the movie L’Ultimo Bacio by GABRIELE MUCCINO | Produced by TOM ROSENBERG, GARY LUCCHESI, ANDRE LAMAL and MARCUS VISCIDI | Released by Paramount Pictures | Citywide
CONFETTI | Conceived and directed by DEBBIE ISITT | Produced by IAN FLOOKS and IAN BENSON | Released by Fox Searchlight Pictures | Selected theaters