Ho hum, the classic Hollywood Rom-Com. That most contented of genres which traditionally bring tears of emotion to women the world over, and tears of incredulous boredom to those unfortunate men in their lives. The archetypal date movie which every self-respecting man has to bear on sporadic occasion throughout the year in order to maintain the love and affection of his most cherished spouse. And so, for the benefit of mankind, I step bravely into the breach with Just Like Heaven, the Mark Waters romantic comedy that dutifully ticks all the right boxes for that familiar bain of a man's life which is that cosy night in with a box full of Maltesers and a chick flick. Dogged and ambitious junior doctor Elizabeth Masterson (Reese Witherspoon) lives a job-orientated life of relative solitude, until she is involved in a serious car accident whilst driving home from a 26hour hospital shift. Some time later, she returns to her apartment to discover it has been taken over by David Abbott (Mark Ruffalo), an unemployed alcoholic widower. To the shock of Elizabeth and David, it is soon discovered that Masterson is a spirit returning to her old home, unaware of the accident that has robbed her of her body, and visible only to David. After initial hostility, the pair seek to uncover the mystery of Elizabeth's condition and her memory loss by piecing together her previous life with help from psychic bookstore clerk Darryl (Jon Heder). As the delve further into the mystery, Elizabeth and David find themselves becoming more and more attached to each other, sparking an unlikely romance that crosses the boundaries of the real and spirit world. It really is a hard task to attempt any kind of perceptive and astute critical evaluation of Just Like Heaven. There's not a great deal here you can actually put your finger on. It's certainly not a particularly good film, nor is it anywhere near the worst I've seen, even just this year. Like the spirit's of the film, it's not really made up of anything, it's just 'there', floating around on screen, keeping the attention but never engaging. The film can't seem to settle on its formula. It makes some misguided attempts to be wacky and smart with some spoofs on other movies which are pretty horrible, and some extraordinarily naff attempts at physical comedy. When it settles into the familiar routines of its genre, it's just plain bland. Blander than Sting and Gary Barlow duetting over a Kenny G musical accompaniment in open-toed sandals and matching beige cardigans. There are points in this movie, mostly involving some nice interplay between Ruffalo and Witherspoon, where you can almost sense there is a passable film trying to get out of its confines, but a combination of lethargic script-work and dullard direction keep it firmly entrenched in the 'no more than a time filler' camp. To be fair as possible, I am blatantly not in any shape or form, the target audience for this kind of movie, and my affinity for the genre probably begins and ends with John Hughes' wonderful rites of passage romantic fables of the mid '80s. I'm fairly sceptical about this particular brand of sickly manipulation, which does nothing for me. The cinematic experience doesn't engineer me to feel the way these movies are designed to make you feel, hence the result is nearly always one of aloof detachment. I'm sure I'm not alone in this. Whilst this kind of film makes men not in tune with their feminine side roll their eyes and glance at the wristwatch, it's one I am fairly confident that the vast majority of the opposite sex will lap up. This is most certainly the type of film your dear old mum impulse-buys whilst at the checkout in Tesco's, and subsequently brands “lovely stuff”. In my personal experience, this did unsurprisingly pass that most scientific of experiments the 'girlfriend approval test'. Take this recommendation with a hearty dose of salt however, as this does come from a woman who still to this day has trouble differentiating between Leslie Nielsen and Steve Martin. Just Like Heaven throws up no surprises, being as it is comprised of the same levels of convention and saccharine banality as every other identi-kit romantic comedy that rolls off the ever more lucrative Hollywood production line year after torturous year. Ruffalo is his usual cardboard cut-out self, but here he gets to show he is equally unengaging and unconvincing at both comedy and drama. Reese Witherspoon (despite showing acting chops in Walk the Line and Election which suggests she can control her own acting legacy) again reverts to the undemanding pretty blonde role, and in that respect I guess she has very nice teeth. The only other character here to really get any more attention than a broadly sketched plot device, is Jon Heder's psychic. Now Heder's distinctive style made Napoleon Dynamite the film it was, but here he's like a Napoleon watered-down for the masses. So he's quirky and off-centre, but mixed with Bill and Ted's beach bum commerciality. I wouldn't call the result a success. The fact that I didn't wholly see eye to eye with this movie, is not to damn it too much. As far as these films go, it's certainly a watchable time killer, and there wasn't really a point where I felt a nagging desire to turn it off, or even reach for the sick bucket. Ruffalo (for all the fact that as an actor I personally think he leaves a lot to be desired), at least brings a different approach to the role as romantic lead in that he's not all oily tan and cheesy grin. Of course it suffers from being awfully predictable and obvious in its narrative, but then is that not the point of these films? I guarantee that you probably will suss the 'twists' of the storyline within around five minutes and I'd more or less guessed the entire film virtually scene for scene, but it's this comfort and predictability that makes these films such crowd pleasers. I think it's emotionally pretty void, and is on the whole predictable at best, banal at worst. I also though, sat through it perfectly happily, and even once or twice raised a smile. Am I discovering a feminine side? Who knows? I can't say that Just Like Heaven is a good film, but I can't say it's a bad one. It's routine, conventional, and engineered for a specific audience. And if this is your bag then you will probably love it.
Our Review Ethos
To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.