Who doesn't this film star?
Watching Garry Marshall's latest film, Valentine's Day, feels a lot like watching The Who as the halftime show during the 2010 Super Bowl.
Despite the incredible talent involved, watching The Who during the recent Super Bowl featured a lot of razzle dazzle, a few pleasant memories, some inappropriate laughs and, perhaps most of all, the overwhelming feeling that what had just unfolded was a tremendous waste of time and talent.
While Valentine's Day isn't quite horrible on the level of watching a group of 150-year-old men trying without success to relive their rock n' roll glory, the film that unfolds is a remarkable disappointment given the presence of four Oscar winners, four Golden Globe winners, an Emmy winner, a Grammy winner and a literal potpourri of folks who've been nominated for a wide variety of acting and, in the case of Taylor Swift, music awards.
In fairness, it bears mentioning that the cast of Valentine's Day also includes at least six Razzie Award nominated performers and one winner, bit player Christine Lakin.
If Crash had been a romantic comedy, odds are it would have looked a lot like Valentine's Day, a film with so many divergent storylines that somehow manage to intersect over the course of the film's two hours that it makes Los Angeles seems like the small town of, say, Muncie.
Ultimately, Valentine's Day has only one goal (Okay. Okay. BEYOND the obvious goal of mad profits). Valentine's Day's goal is to take a double hand full of stars and toss them into a whole bunch of sugary sweet, lightly romantic storylines that appeals to the widest audience possible on its opening weekend, not so surprisingly Valentine's Day weekend.
Will it work? Despite a myriad of missed opportunities, Valentine's Day is cast nearly perfectly with stars beloved from past and present largely doing what we've always loved them doing with only a few minor exceptions. While it would be virtually impossible, and tedious, to recount each and every story line, a brief summary seems warranted along with a brief review of what amounts to a series of short films contained under the banner of one typical Garry Marshall film.
Are you exhausted yet? You should be. Rather than create a few richly developed, genuinely appealing characters for an audience to bond with, director Garry Marshall and screenwriter Katherine Fugate have seemingly thrown everything at the screen in the hopes that at least one scene will stick with virtually every audience member. There's even a toss in for Hispanic audiences with George Lopez's winning appearance as Reed's best friend and confidante and, arguably, the film's most happily committed character. It shouldn't be surprising that even within the context of these few storylines, there are storylines that intertwine with each other, cross each other and, by the end of the film, it becomes apparent that virtually everyone here is somehow connected to everyone else.
- The film's biggest story arc involves Reed (Ashton Kutcher), a florist who has just proposed to his dream girl (Jessica Alba) while his best friend, Julia (Jennifer Garner) thinks she's found Mr. Right in the former of a divorced (really?) surgeon (Patrick Dempsey).
Overview: While most of the characters in Valentine's Day are lucky if they achieve one-dimensional status, both Reed and Julia are more fleshed out and interesting, inviting characters (especially Julia!). Kutcher and Garner have a nice, relaxed chemistry and the film could have done with a whole lot more of them. Alba, on the other hand, isn't even remotely fleshed out including a final scene that is likely supposed to symbolize regret. Instead, it simply feels poorly edited and out of place. Dempsey pretty much suffers the same fate, but Dempsey is a better actor than Alba and at least looks a bit McDreamy during the entire thing.
- Edison (Bryce Robinson) is a fourth-grader in Julia's class who harbors a not so secret crush while his babysitter (Emma Roberts) plans her deflowering with her boyfriend (Carter Jenkins) and his grandparents (Shirley MacLaine and Hector Elizondo) deal with a long concealed secret that bubbles to the surface. Oh, and then the twin Taylors (Swift and Lautner) mix it up as a boyfriend/girlfriend duo in the midst of it all.
Overview: Edison may very well be the most irritating child this side of young Anakin, and rather than projecting anything resembling "aw shucks" or adorable, Bryce Robinson makes you want to smack him and send him to bed without supper. MacLaine and Elizondo are a joy to watch, MacLaine managing to wring some true emotions out of a one-note character. Emma Roberts and Carter Jenkin come off fine together, though the Taylors exhibit almost zero chemistry (this may, of course, explain why their brief relationship ended. Or did it?) and Swift is reduced to a mindless, peppy and virtuous young thing while Lautner is yet again cast as the hot boyfriend who has never met an emotion he can't completely stuff.
- Jason (Topher Grace), a Midwest boy transplanted into the big city, is two weeks into a relationship with the way out of his league Liz (Anne Hathaway). Liz works for Paula, a no nonsense sports agent who, along with Jason, has no idea that Liz operates on the sidelines (and on the clock) as a phone sex operator. One of Paula's key clients is new free agent and football star Sean Jackson (Eric Dane), who's wrestling with whether or not to retire or pursue other avenues in life.
Overview: Jason and Liz could have made a film all by themselves, Hathaway and Grace displaying a fun yet sexy chemistry and the storyline being genuinely entertaining when it's given a chance to be. Paula isn't fleshed out at all and, at least until the end, Dane's Sean Jackson is mostly an afterthought.
- One of the film's most surprisingly satisfying storylines involves an Army Captain (Julia Roberts) sitting next to the recently single Holden (Bradley Cooper).
Overview: While the story is built up rather simply, the payoff is richly developed, well thought and, far moreso than any other within the film, truly emotionally satisfying.
- Queen Latifah's sports agent also figures in with Kara (Jessica Biel), Sean Jackson's manager who holds an "I Hate Valentine's Day" party every year but has to deal with Jackson's big announcement first while second-tier sportscaster Kelvin Moore (Jamie Foxx) seeks to get his big break while on a feel good assignment from his boss (Kathy Bates).
Overview: The Kara scenes are histrionic and underdeveloped, though it is nice to see Jamie Foxx here a bit relaxed and not imitating anyone or anything. This entire story arc is paint-by-numbers and its resolution feels a bit forced and occurs so late in the film that it's difficult to become attached to it.
Truthfully, almost entirely on the basis of its winning cast, Valentine's Day is more entertaining than one might think and it's not the debacle that most film critics are making it out to be. While the film is far too long and contains far too many individual stories, Valentine's Day is a lightly romantic, semi-entertaining piece of cinematic fluff that will go over easy on Valentine's Day and then spend a much longer life on home video where you can easily skip through the boring parts and only watch those involving your favorite performer.
While Valentine's Day won't have near the appeal of Marshall's Pretty Woman, it's a refreshing turn away from such drivel as Exit to Eden, Raising Helen and The Other Sister.
The only thing missing from Valentine's Day?
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic