Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Just Like Other Romantic Comedies, JUST Like Them: Just Like Heaven

The Good: It's always nice to see Rosalind Chao getting work
The Bad: Mediocre acting, Dull characters, VERY predictable plot, not truly funny
The Basics: Reese Witherspoon returns to her acting form in a film that is unremarkable, unchallenging and unfunny with Just Like Heaven.

Having been subjected to the dismal waste of celluloid Just My Luck, I tried to recover my sense of love for America by taking in another romantic comedy. Having enjoyed Reese Witherspoon in Walk The Line (reviewed here!), I thought I'd check out Just Like Heaven. It had Donal Logue and Rosalind Chao, so I thought "How bad can it be?" Here's the thing, Just Like Heaven is not terrible, but it's predictable, weak on character, poorly acted and in almost every way unsurprising and/or unremarkable.

Elizabeth Masterson is a doctor in San Francisco who is working her way up the hospital chain of command through dedication, sacrifice and competence. After an especially exhausting shift, she is driving home and in an accident with a truck. David Abbott, lost after his wife left him, finds an apartment to sublet in San Francisco where he now finds himself. David, however soon discovers a problem; the apartment is occupied. Elizabeth appears to David, declaring the apartment is hers and the two try to figure out who she is (she does not remember everything), why she is appearing like a ghost and why only David can see her. With the help of his friend/therapist Jack and resident ghost expert Darryl, the pair tries to figure out how to send the spirit on its way.

Just Like Heaven is billed as a romantic comedy and I find that to be something of a misnomer; comedy implies funny and romantic implies genuine connection to me. This movie is not funny and it does not seem like it is trying terribly hard for humor or when it does, it is going for the most obvious and hackneyed concepts of humor. So, for example, one of the only overt moments where the movie tried to garner a laugh involved Elizabeth trying to prevent David from drinking alcohol and her solution was to "possess" him. This results in actor Mark Ruffalo flailing around with a sense of physical comedy roughly akin to [insert the name of the least funny interpreter of reality through physical comedy you can think of, I'm running dry on this one]. I laughed more watching "Nixon" than watching Just Like Heaven.

As for the romantic aspect of Just Like Heaven, the movie suffers because actors Reese Witherspoon and Mark Ruffalo have no on-screen chemistry. Most of the movie is spent with the two arguing and that whole "adversaries turned romantic interest" thing has gotten about as tired as blonde leading ladies. Yes, they're everywhere, but the real surprise is when one impresses us. Just Like Heaven, like the returned-to-blonde Witherspoon underwhelm in this department.

The supporting performances are as good as they can be. Rosalind Chao has no real room to work as Elizabeth's mentor at the hospital, Grace. She adequately portrays a medical professional and a friend. Similarly, Donal Logue fits the "male sidekick" role of Jack well, though the idea that his character is involved in the mental health field stretches suspension of disbelief.

Jon Heder, high off the success of Napoleon Dynamite (panned here!), plays a remarkably similar role as Darryl in this movie. Heder seems bored and his character is dull, appearing only at plot-convenient moments to say things that serve the plot. Darryl is not innovative or especially fleshed out and Heder's portrayal of him is evokes only the feeling that the actor does not care to add anything to the flat character on the page. Heder does nothing distinctive to make Darryl his own and the performance falls flat.

Similarly, Mark Ruffalo continues to underwhelm me. I saw him first in Rumor Has It . . . and was unimpressed. Ruffalo struck me then as the flavor of the year as far as Hollywood-good-looking actors who were getting cast in things without any real regard for talents. As with that Jennifer Aniston movie, Ruffalo has no real chemistry with Witherspoon on-screen, making their romantic association a bit of a stretch. Having seen Ruffalo now in a few things, I am convinced that he is the new Chris Sarandon.

While a lot of the movie hinges on Ruffalo's bland performance, this is billed as a Reese Witherspoon movie and she bears the brunt of some of its failure. Witherspoon was terribly cast for Just Like Heaven. I'm not saying that she can't do light, pointless romantic comedies that we can figure out from the trailer, but she can't pull off some acting challenges yet. Her portrayal of a medical professional that opens the movie is utterly unbelievable. From the moment Witherspoon opens her mouth, I'm not convinced she's a doctor. She is not convincing and that failure ruptures the tire early on; the movie isn't going anywhere good from that point on.

Mark Waters directs Just Like Heaven and there is little to say about his directing. It keeps the pace reasonable enough that it moves like a romantic comedy. I suppose the failure here is either in the writing or his direction; if it's a comedy, it's not written funny enough. If it's a drama, it's not filmed seriously enough. Either way, it's disappointing.

Had I reviewed this film last night after watching that abysmal Lindsay Lohan movie, I might have knocked it up in the rating, but by the harsh light of day, this truly is a below average movie.

For other works with Mark Ruffalo, be sure to visit my reviews of:
The Avengers
Date Night
Shutter Island
The Kids Are All Right
Where The Wild Things Are
Rumor Has It . . .
Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind


Check out how this film stacks up against others by visiting my Movie Review Index Page for a listing from best to worst!

© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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