In his Italian comedy “The Last Kiss,” director/screenwriter Gabriele Muccino explores the nagging question, both in life and love, of whether the grass is greener on the other side. His answer emerges through the compelling story of four thirty-something buddies struggling to hang onto the ephemeral pleasures of carefree youth in the face of increasingly heavy adult responsibilities. And his answer comes across as a resounding NO.

“The Last Kiss” goes at a breathless pace, with rapid cuts between emotionally charged, interwoven storylines that reflect the characters’ desperate attempts to outrun the obligations of adulthood. Carlo (Stefano Accorsi), a handsome advertising agent, deeply loves Guilia (Giovanna Mezzogiorno), his pregnant girlfriend of five years. ÊBut when he meets honey-blonde, 18-year-old Francesca (Martina Stella) at a friend’s wedding, he cannot resist his desire to feel “alive” one last time before the baby arrives. Meanwhile, Adriano (Giorgio Pasotti) feels that the emotion has disappeared from his marriage with his wife (Sabrina Impacciatore) since the birth of their first child. To rekindle excitement in his life, he pierces his nose and plans to leave his family to go on exotic road trips with his single friends. Alberto (Marco Cocci) seeks a similar return to the good life after losing his father and breaking up with the love of his life. And Paolo (Claudio Santamaria) indulges in what he sees as the free and easy life of a bachelor through raucous sexual activities and heavy marijuana use.

Yet no matter how frantically the four main characters try to preserve their vision of adolescent freedom, their efforts only end in pain and misery for themselves and others. These friends get together routinely at a fountain overlooking the city to spray each other with champagne and to scream out their never-ending liberty from passionless adulthood, but their juvenile antics only mask their intense fear of commitment, marriage, parenthood and old-age. Rather than cherishing the people around them who know and love them, these full-grown men provide a disgusting display of self-absorption. And the inability of these characters to understand how their behavior impacts the people around them, from their wives to their children and mistresses, turns this ostensible comedy into a poignant tragedy. As Guilia sobs and shakes on her bed with the torturing knowledge that Carlo might be seeing another woman, the audience feels the anguish of her shattered trust and dreams. As naive Franscesca chases her supposed soulmate down the street as he flees back to the woman he truly adores, we understand her loss of innocence and unrequited love. And as Adriano’s wife turns her face away from him to cry over the baby in her arms, we know her inner agony and fear of facing an uncertain future as a single mother.

“The Last Kiss” by no means tells a new story. The theme of abandoning adolescent fantasies of freedom to embrace the challenging but truly valuable responsibilities of adult life has found expression in countless movies and novels. Nevertheless, the film’s powerful rendering of the human heartache so integral to this motif makes it worth the hour and 55 minutes of frenzied action.