If you've ever sat behind a table trying to force pieces of a jigsaw puzzle together when they just don't fit, then you might understand something of the characters' feelings in director Gabriele Muccino's "The Last Kiss." Though lighthearted in tone, this contemporary Roman tale weaves the intricate stories of a group of 30-somethings struggling to grasp the responsibilities that life has brought them -- and that they have chosen for themselves.
An ensemble piece, the film centers on an attractive unmarried couple, Carlo (Stefano Acorsi is wonderful in the role) and Giulia (Giovanna Mezzogiorno), planning for parenthood. Overwhelmed by the news of Giulia's pregnancy, Carlo spends much of the time looking as if he has just undergone electro-convulsive therapy. He eventually turns to the luscious Francesca (Martina Stella), all of 18 years old and protruding in all the right places.
The quick editing and contradictory, soapy leanings of the story often threaten to turn the film into a bit of TV, and were it not for the brisk repartee of Carlo's closest compatriots who are grappling with familial issues of their own, you might catch yourself checking your local listings to find out when next week's installment is scheduled.
But what really sets this film apart from a typical ensemble piece in the vein of "The Big Chill" is Stefania Sandrelli's portrayal of Giulia's mother, Anna. A "cactus with thorns," as she's called, it's Anna who keeps her daughter on balance, reminding her -- and us -- that the struggles don't end once the children grow up and move away. Relationships require work, and even a cactus must be tended to now and then.