Just Like Heaven (2005) / Comedy-Romance
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for language and some sexuality
Running Time: 95 min.
Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Mark Ruffalo, Donal Logue, Dina Spybey, Jon Heder, Ben Shenkman, Ivana Milicevic, Rosalind Chao
Director: Mark Waters
Screenplay: Peter Tolan, Leslie Dixon (based on the novel, "If Only It Were True", by Marc Levy)
Review published September 25, 2005
Reese Witherspoon (Legally Blonde 2, Sweet Home Alabama) stars as Elizabeth Masterson, having just landed a major promotion at the San Francisco hospital she is a physician at. She deserves it because, for years, she puts everything she has into her work, although at the expense of her personal life. Elizabeth is finally rewarded with a mandatory night off. She plans to do something about that lack of a love life by consenting to a blind date, but along the way, tragedy strikes in the form of an oncoming truck that smashes into her car. Next thing she knows, there is a strange widower named David (Ruffalo, Collateral) living in her apartment, and he insists that he is leasing it fair and square, even though all her stuff is still there. It takes some time, but soon she finds that she isn't what she thinks she is anymore, now a spirit that only David can see.
I suppose on might call it The Ghost and Mrs. Muir for today's generation, as there are quite a bit of derivative elements at play. All can be easily forgiven here, thanks largely to the great chemistry between Ruffalo and Witherspoon, two actors that manage to be likeable and vulnerable in ways that make you want them to find happiness regardless of whatever they have to do to get it. Director Mark Waters, who had been on a roll with two of the better teen flicks of the last decade, Freaky Friday and Mean Girls, delivers yet again with this romantic ghost story, which manages more than a few poignant moments underneath the sitcom antics.
As good as the film may be at certain times, there is also quite a bit of baggage, as it is still a very flawed film, particularly in the writing department. It is weakest when it plays for laughs, which it does all too often and in the most obvious of ways, sometimes undercutting the momentum of the budding romance. Had things played more like a straight romantic fantasy with moments of comic relief, instead of a broad comedy with moments of seriousness, this might have been one of the best films of the year, perhaps even pulling off a feat that similar romantic fantasies like Ghost and Heaven Can Wait had done in gaining Oscar-worthy status.
All in all, this is about as wide a bag of mixed goods as there is in a film, with alternating scenes ranging from awful to beautiful in quality. Now that I have to sit and review it, I am at a loss as to which is the most accurate description -- is this a bad movie made good because of some very poignant dramatic moments, or is this a good movie marred by overcooked contrivances, in addition to the constant need for silly slapstick and cheap laughs? Thinking back to some of the worst moments, such as Jon Heder acting like Napoleon Dynamite all over again, or Ivana Milicevic (Paycheck, Down with Love) playing the tramp neighbor that will do anything for a little action in bed, I can only conclude that it could have been a bad movie in the hands of anyone other than Waters, Witherspoon and Ruffalo. We should all be thankful that it wasn't the fiasco it very well might have been.
Just Like Heaven ultimately is worthwhile for viewers looking for a light, romantic fantasy with some tearjerker moments, where you leave the theater smiling in a tearful fashion. It's a film that carries most of its appeal through sheer charisma, so your mileage will most definitely vary as to how caught up in the magic you are able to be. As for me, I found there to be enough good elements to make it a pleasant enough experience, and my only disappointment is that the script aimed too low given the capabilities of the performers and talented crew.
©2005 Vince Leo