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Just Like Heaven

Just Like Heaven lives up to every possible expectation offered up by its trailer. That is, of course, if said expectations consist of wasted talent, predictable ho-hum wrap-ups laced with inexplicably convenient chance resolutions, and interesting possibilities squandered by last minute retractions into the safely clichéd. Yep, Just Like Heaven has that payload in spades.

You see, the problem with a film like this isn’t the fact that we know as an audience that there must be more to Ellizabeth Masterson’s (Reese Witherspoon) dilemma, or that David Abbott (Mark Ruffalo) will have something to do with uncovering her secret and helping resolve her woes in the end. No, these are pretty much welcomed expectations in a film of this stature, and had director Mark Waters strayed from these conventions he would have had droves of filmgoers cursing his name on the way out the door.

Of course, at least then they would know who he was, so perhaps that wouldn’t be entirely bad. There is, after all, a price for fame.

No, the problem here is that the film seems far more ripe with opportunity than it actually is, and in the end, certain turns feel forced merely for the sake of aligning with the clichéd expectations of the genre. It didn’t have to be this way, but it is. The result is, most savvy filmgoers will go into cruise control mode forty-five minutes into the film, and merely tune out for the resulting decline into the closing credits.

The premise is simple enough. Elizabeth is a young accomplished doctor eagerly overworking herself in hopes of further professional success. She’s lonely and seems to wish to meet someone, but work comes first and foremost. We meet her on a busy night, finishing up a twenty-three hour shift at the hospital, and running late for dinner at her sister Abby’s (Dina Waters) house. Abby is playing matchmaker and hopes to set Elizabeth up with an acquaintance of hers over lasagna that includes a Spongebob Squarepants doll baked into it by accident.

All of this is cut short when, inexplicably, Elizabeth is run into headfirst by an oncoming truck. No reasoning whatsoever. The truck wasn’t swerving to avoid a hazard, and Elizabeth didn’t accidentally turn down a one way street. All we need know is something bad happened. ‘Nuff said.

Enter David Abbott, a man eagerly seeking a place to live in San Francisco. We tag along as he visits various different furnished apartments and houses, where he proceeds to rate each one based on the comfort of their individual couches. The man has a plan, and when fate steps in bringing him to an apartment being rented on a month to month basis, David finds the couch he’d been searching for.

His plan, it seems, is to spend his days glued to the couch in front of the television, sucking down beers while watching his wedding video on repeat. Many of these opening sequences play for bittersweet laughs, tiny moments that tell snippets of what these characters are comprised of, glimpses of who they may long to become, and allows peeks into what seems to be haunting them in their own quiet ways.

In two words: it works.

When Elizabeth suddenly appears in David’s apartment, we are given ample reasons to believe that he may, in fact, be drunk and therefore merely seeing things. He makes this leap as well, but upon further visitations begins to question his own sanity.

In steps Jack (Donal Logue), David’s closest friend, confidant, and as we learn, is kind enough to serve as David’s psychologist without charging him per session. The chemistry and charm Logue brings to his characters is always a welcomed presence, and this case is no different. Ruffalo and Logue share some excellent screentime together, dancing around David’s loneliness and the woman he is currently “seeing.”

As David continues to try to understand why Elizabeth continues to visit him, bossing him about cleanliness and going on and on about how he is squatting in her apartment, he makes the prerequisite pit stop at the local supernatural bookstore for some friendly advice. There he encounters Darryl (Jon Heder), a man with the penchant for recognizing the presence of spirits and reading what their intentions may be for those around them.

Having a ham like Heder, a foil like Logue, and a leading man like Ruffalo seems to be the recipe for something decent, but it isn’t. What we end up with is a few scenes that prove endearing, and the rest is pretty much by the book. It’s established early on that Elizabeth has no time for personal endeavors outside of work, so guess what will be a piece of the puzzle in helping Elizabeth solve her issues? Ruffalo’s sad-sack state has to factor in at some point, and when it finally does, the scene is tempered with groan inducing saccharine filled sentimentality enough to send anyone into a sugar rush.

In the end, there are a few things to note. Witherspoon could have been worse, although she will never top her turn in Election, no matter how hard she may try. When Logue’s Darryl returns in the third act, there are a few laughs worth noting, including an interestingly hilarious connection tying David, Elizabeth, Abby, and Darryl together. All of this is enough to warrant a yuck or two, but this film is hardly romantic enough to justify its routinely tired disposition. All of this is shameful in a sense because the novel that Just Like Heaven was adapted from, Marc Levy’s If It Were Only True, is supposedly pretty good, which is more than can be said for the film.


Mario Anima

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