The Italian film The Last Kiss suggests that tongue clucking over the skewed ethics of thirtysomethings has become an international sport as well. This wildly promiscuous, zeitgeist-surfing soap opera follows a diverse group of well-to-do guy friends who are having various commitment issues and difficulty facing the onset of adulthood.
Somewhere between Neil LaBute and American Pie, this angsty melodrama takes the measure of the twenty- to thirtysomething pulse and finds a generation deeply skittish about the commitment that evaded even their parents' generation. They refuse to give up the perks of adolescence -- sex, drinking, aimlessness -- even as the bell of real life tolls.
Standing on a viaduct with a view of Rome, Carlo (Stefano Accorsi) and his male friends spew champagne onto the sleeping town in a frenzied circle jerk of released energy and rage. The friends all feel constrained by the demands of grown-up life: Carlo's live-in girlfriend Giulia (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) is pregnant and suddenly pricing new homes; Marco (Pierfrancesco Favino) has a 6-month-old baby who is putting serious strain on his marriage; and Adriano (Giorgio Pasotti) has managed to remain still dreadlocked, single and fancy free.
The Last Kiss has a slightly effervescent tone and threatens on multiple occasions to slide into "Man Show" territory with its self-serving litany of male "entrapment." When handsome Carlo takes up with a gorgeous 18-year-old high school student named Francesca (Martina Stella), things veer toward American sex comedy.
But director Gabriele Muccino quickly shows there is more to this film than a whiny rhapsody of male freedom imperiled by wily females. Unlike many American directors who unleash adolescent fantasies of babes and booty through their soul-patched, protagonists, Muccino looks down from the altar of adulthood with head-shaking amusement at the selfish behavior of these perpetual boys. And The Last Kiss is far more grown-up than it first appears, shifting from a post-mortem on the "dead" institution of marriage as a grand squelcher of desire to an examination of the deeper, quieter and undramatic pleasures offered by the seemingly outmoded institution.
Muccino also takes pains to show the woman's side of things in the character of Giulia's mother Anna (Stefania Sandrelli, star of classic Italian cinema The Conformist and Divorce Italian Style). She is an exhausted, faded beauty who continually tries to get a rise out of her husband, but can't shock him into recognizing she exists. Sitting at her dressing table ornamented by a picture of herself some 20 years younger, Anna complains, "I'm getting ugly." It is a test of her husband's interest, which is answered with a cruel silence. The news of Giulia's pregnancy and imagined happiness only intensifies Anna's unhappiness in this film about the comforts and constraints that marriage can offer its practitioners.
Muccino aptly conveys the emotional wall of resentment that can go up between couples. In The Last Kiss, even pillow talk has a mordant, unsexy resonance, as when Giulia kisses Carlo goodnight and tells him, "If I ever found out you've cheated on me, I'll kill you."
Muccino does justice to his material by showing both the reason for the sense of suffocation his man-boys feel, but also the vaporous quality of the escape they imagine, which tends to dissipate as soon as they reach out to grab it, like Carlo's perfect, nubile blond Francesca. Longing for freedom's heady exhilaration, these Peter Pans instead find that life keeps getting in the way, and that love, parents, children and fear can keep their ambitions as grounded as a tether of cement balloons.
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