When romantic comedies get imported from Europe, they often get stamped with the label "farce." Now farce implies the use of exaggeration to lampoon the utter folly of the human condition, and maybe we just assume that Europeans -- having been human longer than Americans -- have to dig deeper to find the laugh.
The Italian comedy "The Last Kiss" is being sold to American audiences as a steamy sex farce, and that is certainly a smart call from the marketing department. But in the interest of full disclosure there's not much that can be labeled farce. The humor and the humanity in Gabriele Muccino's film comes from the very lack of exaggeration. There's a good chance you will recognize yourself, a family member, a very good friend or all of the above in the ensemble cast of characters. They will be Italian and much better looking, of course, but unlike many American romantic comedies, "The Last Kiss" is into keeping it real from beginning to end, and the result is as painfully amusing as life itself.
The one nod to excess is that the characters have all conveniently chosen to break down during the same two hour film. Personal crisis spreads through "The Last Kiss" like a virus, beginning with the announcement that handsome young Carlo and beautiful young Giulia are pregnant. They aren't, however, married, and commitment-shy Carlo would like to keep it that way. Giula's urbane parents greet the news with more joy than recrimination, until Giula's mother realizes that this requires her to become a grandmother and she suddenly becomes obsessed over all the years lost to her unhappy marriage. Meanwhile, Carlo and Giula's friends, all nervously approaching 30, are wrestling with the lifetime of frustration that awaits them unless they take some drastic action, including running away from marriages, duties or home itself. The men are selfish and childish. The women are demanding and controlling. Yet I suspect both men and women watching the movie will be forced to admit the filmmakers were only being fair.
One thing Europeans definitely do better than Americans is have affairs, and "The Last Kiss" treats them as just another ingredient in life. That doesn't mean the film approves of affairs: when Carlo is driving through a rainstorm, leaving his gorgeous, loyal and pregnant girlfriend at home while he rendezvous with a smitten high school sex kitten, he mutters with grinning dread "what am I doing?" What he's doing is not turning back. Of course to knowingly follow a disastrous course of action is the very definition of folly. And as long as it's not you making the mistakes, folly can be entertaining stuff.
But comedies are always tragedies with a whimsical soundtrack and a happy ending. In "The Last Kiss" everyone gets poetic justice and hope, if not outright happiness. It's a very honest film. It's a very good film. And did I mention that everyone is good-looking and Italian?
© 2002 - Casey McCabe - Air Date: 9/4/02
Last Kiss, The (Ultimo bacio, L')
Italy - 2001