Dear God! What is Hollywood’s freaking obsession with talking to the dead? If there was absolutely one identifiably unrelatable premise with which absolutely none of us can connect (save for little old ladies hopped up on arthritis medication and dirty martinis), it is this uncanny ability to carry on romantic relationships with the deceased. Yet, thanks in large part to the disgustingly treacly Ghost, we’ve all been subjected to a series of talk-to-the-dead weeper romances (Return to Me, The Bishop’s Wife, City of Angels, ad infinitum), which do little else besides instill a belief in girlfriends/wives that if their boyfriends/husbands would just bloody die already, they could finally have the perfect relationship.
Claptrap! As though it’s not hard enough already to live up to the ridiculously high romantic bar that “Survivor’s” Boston Rob has set, or the ungodly devotion to marriage that Charlie Sheen has inspired, but now … now not even death is a legitimate obstacle. Because Hollywood has led us down the primrose path of the supernatural, now we’re not only expected to move the furniture and hang your pictures in those hard-to-reach places, but we have to come back from the dead to keep you company after the dreamy Anderson Cooper has put you to sleep. It’s bullshit, ladies. Bullshit.
Well, screw it, Hollywood. Death isn’t about to stop me from watching football on Sundays, dammit, and it sure as hell isn’t going to get that leak in the bathroom sink fixed any quicker. In Heaven, ladies, we men have four TiVos, NFL Sunday Ticket, an unlimited supply of Bud Light, and a wireless internet connection that never slows down; and since ghostly apparitions can never bump uglies with their earthly counterparts, good luck getting us to come back down to Earth for conversation. There are unlimited poker games in Heaven, girls, so forget about it, all right?
Where was I? Ah, yes: Just Like Heaven, the latest installment in romantic wish fulfillment. Only this time, the roles are reversed, and it is the female protagonist, Elizabeth, (played by the oh-gawd-it-hurts-cute Reese Witherspoon) an emergency room doctor who gets involved in a car accident and then comes back to inhabit her old apartment and ultimately fall in love with its new tenant, architect David Abbott (Mark Ruffalo), who is actually expected to share his pricey San Francisco space with a dead lady. Dammit! Even when it’s the man who lives, he can’t win, can he?
The plot unfolds as expected from there: Elizabeth and David initially grate on each other, but slowly (far too slowly for my taste) fall in love as David attempts to help Elizabeth figure out who she was in real life, and ultimately devolving into weird Terri Schiavo territory, going where no romantic comedy should endeavor to go: Politics.
Hollywood — knowing that Reese Witherspoon isn’t enough to bring in the young, male demographic, and that the only guys coming to see Just Like Heaven are those comfortable enough with their masculinity to admit having a man-crush on Mark Ruffalo — also casts Jon Heder as a goofy psychic sidekick, in the hopes that frat boys with Napoleon Dynamite’s visage pasted across their T-shirts and “Sweet!” written underneath will be tricked into attending; for good measure, Donal Logue (The Tao of Steve, “Grounded for Life,”) is also thrown into the mix, provided — free of charge — to give Just Like Heaven a hipster blue-collar male equivalent to Rosie O’Donnell (only Logue doesn’t make you want to commit suicide).
As for the film itself, well … it’s really kind of bad. God bless Witherspoon and Ruffalo, though, for providing enough talent to have us believe — occasionally — that it’s digestible. Director Mark Waters (he who provided us with the divine House of Yes, and the not-so-divine-but decent Mean Girls and Freaky Friday) does the best he can with what he has to work with, which is some really poor source material, combined with terrible writing compliments of the folks responsible for penning Pay it Forward, Guess Who?, and Stealing Harvard (Peter Tolan and Leslie Dixon).
It’s sad, too, to see what a terrible script can do for an actor. Mark Ruffalo — aside from Robert Downey, Jr. — is probably my favorite “dramatic” actor in Hollywood today, but Just Like Heaven goes a long way toward tarnishing my image of him. In his previous efforts, he’s had mostly good screenplays to work with (You Can Count on Me, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Collateral, and even 13 Going on 30), and he has infused what I can imagine is his actual personality into each character so well that I’m left in man-crush awe, willing to run out of the theater and buy whatever he was wearing in a pathetic effort to channel that Ruffalo karma. In Heaven, however, I was a little embarrassed for him; his early-Travolta intonation somehow doesn’t work here, and I was left wondering if that “karma” was more a product of those earlier screenplays than actual talent. He’s got quite a few high-profile films upcoming (including the David Fincher directed Zodiac, starring alongside Downey), so I suppose we’ll find out then if he’s for real or not; I certainly hope so, because I could use a new wardrobe.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba and managing partner of its parent company, which prefers to remain anonymous for reasons pertaining to public relations. He lives in Ithaca, New York.
Film Reviews | May 13, 2006 | Comments ()