Not everyone having a midlife crisis is middle-aged. Or, for that matter, even in a real crisis. "The Last Kiss" is a pleasantly tart Italian comic drama about love, lies, fidelity and infatuation. It's a mainstream European look at intimate relationships, too sophisticated to be as pat as Hollywood would make it but still not eager to go deep enough to alienate a paying audience.
Writer-director Gabriele Muccino struck that balance quite nicely, turning out a film that won several David di Donatello Awards (Italy's version of the Oscars), earned enough to be one of that country's top-grossing films last year and even shared Sundance's audience award for world cinema.
Like many another genteel soap opera, "The Last Kiss" focuses on beautiful people coping with all manner of romantic crises. Because people in actual midlife are not necessarily all that photogenic, the film concentrates on characters in their 30s, caught in the last gasp of what they assumed would be eternal adolescence.
"The Last Kiss' " central couple, 30-year-old Carlo (Stefano Accorsi) and his 27-year-old live-in girlfriend Giulia (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) are introduced at a key point in their relationship: She is pregnant, and they have decided to marry and have the child.
But Carlo, talking in voice-over as they drive to break the news to both sets of parents, is not without his "is this all there is?" doubts. He feels trapped more than exhilarated by impending fatherhood, worrying about what he might be missing by settling down.
The couple's news also triggers doubts in Giulia's parents, especially in her mother Anna (Stefania Sandrelli), enmeshed in a tortured marriage and also not willing to say that her romantic life is over. Having Anna's part played by Sandrelli, who starred in the similarly themed "Divorce Italian Style" decades ago, adds a particular poignancy to the situation.
Completely horrified by Carlo's plans is his co-worker and best friend Adriano (Giorgio Pasotti). Married with an infant son, he says parenthood is worse than Carlo can imagine. Hours are spent calming the baby down, and "as soon as you get him to sleep, he's hungry and you have to start over."
Equally disgruntled is a third friend, Paolo (Claudio Santamaria), who is trying to cope with a particularly painful breakup and the impending death of his estranged father. Paolo proposes that all the guys abruptly drop out and head for another country. "To give sense to life," he says, "you have to escape, change."
To anyone over 30, the sight of this crew agonizing about the need to feel alive, worrying that "the good life," whatever that is, is passing them by and being terrorized by the mere mention of the age 40 plays like self-absorbed silliness. As writer-director Muccino has said, this film "is about the fear of growing up," not necessarily a subject of endless fascination.
Helping the film's watchability is the more classic screen dilemma faced by Carlo. At a wedding early in the film he meets the stunning Francesca (Martina Stella). When he tells her he's in advertising, she replies that she's in high school. Beautiful, self-possessed, just turned 18 and completely mad about Carlo, she is his ultimate fantasy turned terrifyingly real. How Carlo handles this be-careful-what-you-wish-for situation creates some truly farcical moments.
"The Last Kiss" also gets considerable energy from its national setting. Italians in love, messing up their lives, yelling, screaming and spitting in each other's faces while insisting "I have to be calm," create a level of emotional force that simply wouldn't be there in a more buttoned-up culture.
Though one of its characters says, "If people are marrying for thousands of years, there must be reason," "The Last Kiss" is too much of a modern entertainment to come down on one side or the other. Its portrait of the many ways we can complicate our romantic lives may have a few serious moments, but it's intended to go down easy, and that's what it does.
* * *MPAA rating: R, for language, sexuality and some drug use. Times guidelines: much sexual talk and brief nudity but otherwise fairly tame.
'The Last Kiss'
Stefano Accorsi: Carlo
Giovanna Mezzogiorno: Giulia
Stefania Sandrelli: Anna
Giorgio Pasotti: Adriano
Claudio Santamaria: Paolo
Martina Stella: Francesca
A Fandango production in collaboration with Medusa Film, released by THINKFilm. Director Gabriele Muccino. Producer Domenico Procacci. Screenplay Gabriele Muccino. Cinematographer Marcello Montarsi. Editor Claudio Di Mauro. Costumes Nicoletta Ercole. Music Paolo Buonvino. Set design Eugenia F. di Napoli. Running time: 1 hour, 54 minutes.
In limited release.