Thursday, September 16, 2010

No Romance, Few Laughs And Taylor Swift Acts All Sink Valentine's Day! (A Movie Even Anne Hathaway Can't Save!)

The Good: Moments of character, Looks good on the surface
The Bad: Underdeveloped storylines, Acting is often stiff or hammy, Not funny, Light on charm.
The Basics: Lacking in humor, originality and even a real sense of romance, Valentine's Day is a mediocre-at-best romantic comedy.

I have nothing against either complicated storylines or movies with big casts. Both are masterfully used in, for example, Magnolia which tells a sufficiently complex story to warrant sixteen main characters and demand a running time of over three hours. So, when I start ranting about Valentine's Day, it's not that I was inherently prejudiced against it. The fundamental problem with Valentine's Day is not that it has a big cast or that it has a complicated storyline, it is that it has a remarkably simple and underdeveloped plethora of stories and it uses a big, Hollywood cast to tell them with.

Sometimes, I sit down to watch a movie and I look at all of the actors in it and I think, "They're banking on the moviegoing audience being willing to shell out for any one of these sixteen people to fill the seats." I thought that last year about He's Just Not That Into You and I know that, despite all of the previews that made the movie look terrible, I eventually said, "I like Drew Barrymore and Jennifer Connelly, I'll give it a try." I spent the rest of the year regretting that decision. And this year, the movie that is disappointing me in a similar way already is Valentine's Day. And while He's Just Not That Into You might have been terrible, Valentine's Day is just underdeveloped and relying more on star power than actual performances. It is a film too often lacking in charm, actual romanticism and even much in the way of laughs.

Reed wakes up on Valentine's Day and proposes to his roommate, Morley and is thrilled when she accepts. Reed goes on to run his Los Angeles flower shop on his busiest day of the year. His good friend, Julia, is eager to share her own story of burgeoning love, with a doctor who is not on the same page as her. Kara prepares to throw her annual "I Hate Valentine's Day" bash, but is frustrated when none of her guests r.s.v.p. Throughout the day, Kara works as a p.r. representative for a football star who is using the day to make an important press announcement and complicating Kara’s life. At her dinner, though, Kara meets Kelvin and they hit it off and others show up, most notably Julia.

Interwoven with these stories are vignettes with high school students Felicia and Willy groping one another in their enthusiasm and Grace and Alex planning their first time. As well, two strangers on a plane, Holden and Kate, get to talking about love and two twentysomething coworkers try to figure out where their dating is going. And to play lip service to mature love, Edgar and Estelle are thrown a few lines and are given a moment to surprise one another in a surprise most people will see coming a mile away.

It seldom takes me much time to review movies I've just seen, but in the case of Valentine's Day, I've been dragging my heels because I don't care. Two hours and news that a sequel is already in the works left me with no enthusiasm for this movie for three big reasons.

The first is that none of the stories are fully developed and pop enough to make them compelling or even remotely rewatchable. With each new plotline being introduced, I came to feel "why are they doing this?! Why don't they go back and finish more with . . .?" As a real statement on how utterly mediocre the film is, those ellipsis were not most commonly filled with Liz (Anne Hathaway's character); I actually cared more about seeing where things were going for Kara. But in true fashion of an overcrowded movie, Paula (Queen Latifah) and Alphonso (George Lopez) could have been edited out and the movie would not have lost anything. In fact, their presence seems more like director Garry Marshall started filming, said, "I'm seeing a lot of white here; this is Los Angeles, we should add some diversity" (whatwith Kelvin, played by Jamie Foxx, becoming more prominent in the latter portion of the film).

The second is that Valentine's Day is not romantic. The movie is so absent on charm that it's almost easy to miss it in the shuffling of characters. Rather than capturing young love, Willy and Felicia come across simply as goofy. Rather than coming across as maturely in love, Edgar and Estelle come across as sedate; this just reinforces the erroneous stereotype that married couples are boring and that young love is exciting. And the in-between just seemed like a lot of adults behaving like teenagers on mood swings. The characters are seldom about open, honest dialogue, though Kara and Kelvin get to some of that. Largely, though, the movie is about people's expectations being upended on Valentine's Day and how the characters roll with that, or fail to. The thing is, because most of them do not have any specific or endearing traits, it's hard to care about them.

Finally, the movie is not funny. Katherine Fugate's screenplay is remarkably dry and while performers like Bradley Cooper and Julia Roberts do their best to add their sparkling eyes and hesitant smiles to the parts, the lines are still very mediocre back and forths that are not particularly charming or interesting. In fact, having seen the movie, I went back and rewatched the trailers and the way some of the lines are cut and timed for the preview trailer was actually funnier than in the film. While this is, of course, what a trailer is supposed to do, the lack of laughs actually left me feeling cheated as much of the film is far more turbulent than funny.

Rather than go through the entire cast list and picking apart the mediocre from the adequate performances, on the acting front, I think I'll only mention Emma Roberts. Roberts plays Grace and the young actress holds her own in a pretty massive cast. Roberts, Emma Roberts (Julia is in the film, too), actually makes good use out of her few scenes by playing her character as smart, mature and entirely plausible. In fact, while there has been much hype about Taylor Swift, whose part is so ridiculous it is tough to criticize her acting because she didn't have a lot to work with, Emma Roberts is the one to watch for a thoughtful and worthwhile performance.

On DVD, Valentine’s Day is loaded up with fourteen deleted scenes and a commentary track, as well as previews for several “chick flicks.” This does not make it any more worth buying.

Even so, there's not enough here to make me recommend the movie to anyone, so one might as well wait for the next thing Emma Roberts is in. Valentine's Day is just not worth it.

For other romance movies or romantic comedies, please check out my reviews of:
Easy A
The Spitfire Grill


For more movie reviews, please check out my index page!

© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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