Thursday, September 15, 2005

Movie: Just Like Heaven

It's worth noting that I'm reviewing this movie after my review of The 40-Year-Old Virgin, in which I gave a mild tongue-lashing to romantic comedies of the cheesy chick-flick variety. I would like to make perfectly clear that I don't hate all romantic comedies: When Harry Met Sally and It Happened One Night are on my list of Top 100 Movies, and I have been pleasantly surprised by a number of others. However, I often take these movies to task for having their hearts in the wrong place, and using film clich├ęs that, when taken to heart buy unsuspecting filmgoers, undermine real relationships. (One of my most memorable movie-watching experiences happened when I laughed uproariously during Bridget Jones's Diary at a part that I thought was being played for laughs, but was apparently dead serious. The rest of the audience was not pleased.) I am a harsh judge of these films, and I make no apologies for it. So, who's ready for some fun?!

The only reasons I went to see Just Like Heaven were: 1) it was free, and 2) my Peach loves Reese Witherspoon, and I figured it was a good date that would make up for the fact that she ends up not liking many of the movies we go see. I wasn't expecting much from it, which was a good thing in hindsight, because there were points when I was actually enjoying myself. It's a passably good movie, and while the flaws aren't fatal, they can certainly maim if you're not careful.

Reese Witherspoon plays Elizabeth, a hospital resident who has given up on the rest of her life in order to do the right thing by her patients. When she is finally rewarded for her 26-hour shifts with a coveted job at her hospital, she (reluctantly) heads to her sister's house for a blind date. David (Mark Ruffalo) is a deeply depressed landscape gardener who now apparently spends all of his time drinking and yet can somehow afford a very nice furnished apartment in San Francisco (which he picked because it has a nice couch to slack on). He would be perfectly content to consume can after can of beer for the rest of his life, but Elizabeth's spirit pops up in the apartment claiming it's hers and that he needs to move out. David figures she's a ghost, but the psychic New Age bookstore owner Darryl (Napoleon Dynamite) thinks otherwise, so the couple go all over town trying to find out exactly what happened to Elizabeth. Will they find out what's going on and fall in love? I won't tell you here, but if you've seen the trailer, or for that matter, any other romantic comedy, I think you know the answer.

The dialogue is sharp and funny, and actually had me laughing out loud. What's more, in the mouths of Witherspoon and Ruffalo (which would make a great name for a 60s folk duo), it actually crackles; they give it more much more substance than it would have if you just read it on the page. What's more, the two actors have so much chemistry that, if they were a couple in real life, would either have spontaneously combusted or reacted and formed a new organic compound. (A sentence that adds more fuel to the "science geeks shouldn't write movie reviews" fire.)

The movie falls down in three places. Firstly, the pace is really wonky. For instance, they drag out the "I'm not a ghost, you're just crazy!" routine waaay too long. I guess they wanted to break the 90 minute barrier or something, but it was too jokey and it played out very quickly. Secondly, the plot is ridiculous; these two people are supposedly intelligent, a doctor and an architect, and they can't figure out how to solve this little mystery? (I know, someone with a 1000+ comic collection calling a movie with a "boy-human meets girl-ghost who's not a ghost" plot is also calling a number of kitchen devices black, but I stand by it.) So many things could have been dealt with if David or Elizabeth had actually sat down and figured out a plan as to how they could fix things, but instead they run around town having wacky hijinks and quiet serene moments where they share their feelings. Which doesn't mean they shouldn't be silly and sorrowful, but they could have been smart about it as well. Finally, any movie who does a body-possessing scene runs the risk of being unfavourably compared to the fantastic All Of Me, another man-loves-ghost romantic-comedy. As funny as Mark Ruffalo is, he is no Steve Martin, and I watched the rest of the Just Like Heaven with All Of Me's spectre looming over it.

Just Like Heaven is a better-than-average romantic comedy, which means that it's better than about 55% of the other one out there. I'd give it 3 stars out of 5, but then again, I'm not exactly the target audience. The girls that came to see it with me absolutely loved it, though. My point is: if you're in the mood for a romantic comedy, you could do worse, but if you want to just see a good movie, you could do much better.

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