September 28, 2006

The Last Kiss (Original vs. Remake)

Reviewer: James van Maanen
Rating (out of 5): ****

Moviegoers tempted to venture into a theatre to take a look at the Tony Goldwyn/Paul Haggis remake of The Last Kiss ought to be sure they see the original Italian version first. Superior in every way, this 2001 gem was writer/director Gabriele Muccino's international breakout, capturing better than most films (from any country) that scary period when men approaching thirty start settling into permanent relationships. We see this via the lives of four friends (and their women) in various states of pre- and post-marital bliss (or something less), as well as the parents of one of the women. The movie is by turns funny, surprising, moving and incisive, as it looks at relationships from many angles. It sees the reasons to hold on to what we have and build on it, but it also acknowledges how difficult this is, given our innate sense of selfishness and hypocrisy.

As a big fan of Goldwyn's initial directorial effort A Walk on the Moon, I admit to having high hopes and experiencing huge disappointment at the Last Kiss remake, due I suspect in no small measure to the work of screenwriter Haggis, whose Crash and Million Dollar Baby I did not like. His heavy hand is all over the Last Kiss remake, as it telescopes the original, giving us a kind of comic book synopsis of characters and events. The biggest difference is in the general sensibility - American as opposed to Italian. This makes itself felt in everything from cinematography - rich, brilliant colors (red, golds, greens) in the original; wan, tepid hues (blues, off-whites and every shade of grey imaginable) in the remake - to character: the Italians are involved, emotional and full of life; the Americans are mostly network television-level. Zach Braff in particular exudes at most a mild charm and even milder angst. If nothing much is at risk, who cares?

In the original, Stefano Accorsi (His Secret Life) brings heavy duty heat, sex appeal and intelligence to the role, and against the simply gorgeous, fiery Giovanna Mezzogiorno (Facing Windows), in the American version poor Jacinda Barrett blanches. Haggis rather slavishly follows the original screenplay, but gives less time and specificity to almost everything, and so characterization, particularly among the three male friends, is one-note. He turns the high school girl who has the short affair with the lead into a college student, thus softening the edges (and leaving out one wonderfully funny moment) and once the major crisis occurs, he simply has his hero curl up into a cute little puppy dog begging for forgiveness. The original takes things farther and deeper, ending with a paean to marital joy followed by a wordless finale that is believable, ironic, funny and sad. Blythe Danner, Tom Wilkinson and Harold Ramis do what they can with the older set but they are no match for Stefania Sandrelli, Luigi Diberti and (yes!) Sergio Castellitto. See the remake if you're so inclined, but for goodness sake, treat yourself to the original The Last Kiss.

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Posted by cphillips at September 28, 2006 5:59 PM

Absolutely agree with everything in your review, the original was far better. I have been trying to find the DVD so I can show my girlfriend.

Posted by: stuart at October 10, 2009 10:31 AM
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