Thursday, 8 May 2008

DVD: The Last Kiss

Lowdown: The complete guide to relationship issues.
We don’t watch Scrubs in our household, despite it looking relatively promising, but we did like Zach Braff’s Garden State. It had a nice soundtrack, it was nice, and it was good enough for me to want to rent The Last Kiss. Well, it was that, as well as the kind words it had received from David & Margaret’s David.
The film starts with a stag party and some confronting striptease scenes (that is, confronting in terms of Hollywood’s holier than thou approach to filmmaking, where beheadings are fine but sex is a no-no). Quickly enough we’re introduced to Braff and a load of his late twenties / early thirties mates, all of whom share one common attribute: they’re all facing problems with their relationships; all other than the guy about to get married, who gets neglected by the film from that point onwards.
It’s not a case of asking “what relationship problems do these dudes have”, but rather a case of asking “what relationship problems are not addressed by the film”; that second questions will get you a shorter answer. We have a guy who recently broke up with his girlfriend and can’t get over it; a guy who is into relationship as long as they’re all about sex, but the minute they get more involved he’s out; a married guy who agreed to have a child in order to reaffirm the relationship but found that it actually triggered the opposite; and then there’s Braff himself, who has a lovely girlfriend but is afraid to commit to marry her and now found that they are pregnant. These issues are augmented by the parents of Braff’s girlfriend, featuring the ever excellent Tom Wilkinson (I’ve had my eye on him since the first Rush Hour), who demonstrate how fatigue can ruin a relationship just as well as youth’s enthusiasm for “more”.
But the story doesn’t end there. During the wedding that follows the stag party, Braff meets a younger girl. She quickly attaches herself in a rather un-credible way to Braff, who fails to shut the door on her initiative; one thing leads to another, and we have a set of relationship crises for the film to solve. Do not worry, though – problems do get solved, if not seamlessly, because despite the straight in your face sex scenes this is, after all, an American film.
I have encountered a few problems while watching The Last Kiss. At first the dominant issue was boredom, but soon enough that was replaced by admiration to the film's thoroughness with the way it tackled the problem at hand.
Next I had a problem with the film's credibility. First, as I have already hinted, I had a bit of an issue with this beautiful girl suddenly putting all of her attention on getting this guy who, by his own admission, is happily engaged with someone else. Speaking from experience, these things just don't happen; I know I'm way too ugly to speak from experience in this department, but I really don't know any guy who had something like that come at him from a good looking girl while he was not actively seeking it. There are good reasons why this doesn't happen to guys, and they're to do with evolutionary psychology; a good looking girl should not have the motivation to hunt for guys when she would be better off identifying the best of the guys that's already attracted to her.
Next on the credibility department are the collection of characters the film features, each with his/her own problem. I was watching the film and thinking how stupid these guys are, one by one: the guy who is only interested in sex and doesn't realize there's more to life than sex, the guy who had a baby just to please his wife, the guy who is afraid to commit because he's waiting on some unexpected lottery prize to be handed to him by life... No one can be that stupid, can they? Well, on second thought, they can. For a start, the film clearly demonstrates how even the cool and calculated can fall (Braff's original girlfriend, who thinks she's got everything under control, takes care of that department). That's not all, though: each of those compromised characters I have mentioned is not far from people I know really well; and come to think of it, I could have easily been one of those guys if my circumstances were only slightly different. Say, if I loved someone enough to want to please her with a child back when I wasn't mature enough, I could have easily regretted it upon realizing how tough a job raising a child is. Or, if I was to fall in love with a childhood sweetheart, only to realize she's not my type years later as my personality has evolved and I find myself a different person to the one I was then. This are things that didn't happen to me mainly because I was so lackluster with my relationships that none lasted long enough to develop such complications.
In short, The Last Kiss made me realize just how lucky I am. And that I should strive to work hard to make sure my lucky run continues.
Best scene: Wilkinson explains to the disillusioned Braff that when it comes to relationships, it's not what you feel that matters but what you do. I liked the message because I think it applies to everything, not just relationships.
Picture quality: Pretty bad. Hues are all over the place, people looking yellowish...
Sound quality: Last Kiss features some directional dialog, but that's pretty much the only positive thing I can say about it.
Overall: Not the most exciting film ever to watch, but a solid 3 stars out of 5 for treating issues that are so relevant to most people, especially those in their twenties/thirties, in an atypical straight forward way.


Moshe Reuveni said...

Allow me to expand the explanation on the evolutionary theory that explains why attractive women are unlikely to hit on men:
We are all here for the purpose of ensuring that our genes survive through the generations. Books have been written to explain why, but the bottom line is this – those that do a good job at surviving their genes (that is, those that crate lots of healthy descendants) are those whose descendants are likely to populate the world after a good number of generations have past. Those descendants are us.
The optimal strategies for leaving good descendants are different for men and women, and for some good reasons.
Men do not need to invest much in their sons & daughters and still stand a good chance of leaving a good descendant. Instead of focusing their attention on grooming a few particular descendants, they can go about having sex with as many women as possible and stand a better chance of leaving a good legacy behind. Mind you, those women would be picked mostly by their looks, as certain attributes of the woman’s body have been programmed by evolution into men’s heads as indicator for a fertile mother (hence the famous 90-60-90 measurement).
Women, on the other hand, need to dedicate years of their lives to each of their descendants whether they want to or not, due to physical reasons. Therefore, it’s in the woman’s interest to pick a proper father – a healthy one that is likely to help her with the grooming of the child.
The results of the above are, amongst others, these: (1) A woman is less likely to go looking for a man than a man is to go looking for a woman, because a man that needs seeking is less likely to invest in a child. (2) A good looking woman is bound to have men knocking at her door, leaving her with the easier job of picking a father (easier than having to go and actively look for one).

The Last Kiss shows the opposite, much less likely scenario: The attractive, young, and obviously fertile woman is actively hunting down the hesitant man. While this is possible it is still unlikely, hence my credibility problem with the film.

Uri said...

One problem with mail (or blog) conversations is that it can be difficult to understand if how serious you are.
I can see how it can be amusing and even thought provoking to look at movies through the lens of evolution theory. But I don’t really think it will get you very far.

Forget for a moment the fact that I’d rather watch Rachel Bilson court Zach Braff than watch Jane Average-Looking do it, and the fact that it’s a romantic comedy (is it? nevermind, that’s not the point) and not a documentary.

You do know that many people behave in ways that are not really good for their genes. Be it chasing after a married (or soon-to-be) man, abusing alcohol or drugs, committing suicide, or any number of other things.

Even psychohistory cannot predict the behavior of one individual, you know.

And if you’re really bothered with this perceived lack of credibility, I wouldn’t watch the new Indy if I were you. Even on DVD.

Moshe Reuveni said...

OK: I'll start by saying that you're right.
You're damn right about the difficulties of understanding someone through a blog. There's no substitute yet for face-to-face, and I'm often amazed at how the stuff I write gets misinterpreted (or worse, misquoted). For the record, I review stuff for fun, and as the blog header says - take it easy. It is nice, though, to create discussions out of posts.

Now for Last Kiss.
The movie is probably labeled a romantic comedy but to be honest the comedy part is rather rare (it's definitely there, though). It's much more of a drama, and yes - given the way it explores relationships and the large number of examples it presents it is pretty close to being a documentary. Well, at least as far as fictional films can be. Let's say it's like a well made reality show that follows people around.

I also agree we would all want to see people of high status messing on the screen rather than lesser idiots. That says more about us and our needs (the need to see that we're not that different to the alphas?) than it says about the movie stars themselves.
I agree that gene theories and such only work on average, but my problem with Last Kiss - and mind you, as problems go this one is of a lesser significance - is that it stretches the borders of reliability in this one particular case (the Bilson fatal attraction). It is a problem only because the rest is so reliable and plausible. Sure, it can happen, but the filmmakers could have helped a bit - by, say, making Braff's existing girlfriend less attractive.
All in all, nothing that would be half as offensive to the viewer's intellect as the stuff Indy 4 must be oozing with.
There is, however, a difference with Indy 4: Indy does not have documentary like pretensions. Indy tells you right from the word go to leave the critic brain aside and hop along for a joyride. That's a major difference!

As for psychohistory: I suspect that with significantly advances science we would be able to have something similar, and with even more advanced stuff - say, being able to read the brain - we'd be able to predict the individual, too (to one extent or another, as reading something also changes the something).
A long way away, but I don't see why that would not be feasible. The brain is just another type of a computer.

In conclusion: I suspect you would enjoy Last Kiss.