Just Like Heaven
September 16th, 2005
“Just Like Heaven” presents yet another Reese Witherspoon romantic comedy made by a studio committee. With an icky and clichéd story to play with, Witherspoon and her co-star, Mark Ruffalo, have little to work with, which they both seem OK with. Dreadful and endless, “Heaven” is anything but. During the screening I attended, the film broke twice. Maybe that was a sign.
Elizabeth (Reese Witherspoon) is a workaholic doctor who has just received a promotion after years of trying to make a good impression. On the way to celebrate, she’s hit by a truck, and left in a coma. David (Mark Ruffalo) is trying to start over after heartbreak, and unknowingly leases Elizabeth’s old apartment. When, in ghost form, Elizabeth starts showing up in David’s presence, the frightened guy assumes insanity, but eventually realizes that Elizabeth needs help navigating the afterlife. Looking for clues to help protect her comatose body, David and Elizabeth race to locate assistance, finding they are falling in love in the process.
Within the first five minutes of “Just Like Heaven,” the audience gets to hear two classic songs (“Just Like Heaven” and “Lust for Life”) butchered by a random studio singer that’s a whole lot cheaper to pay than the original artists. This sets the tone perfectly for the colorless “Heaven,” since the film presented is merely a tuneless cover version of better films that have come along.
Directed by studio hack Mark Waters (“Head Over Heels,” “Mean Girls”), “Heaven” is purportedly based on a novel, but I can’t imagine any literary release would be as clunky and pedestrian as this film. Waters is on autopilot here, proving further that his smart work on 2003’s “Freaky Friday” was a fluke. “Heaven” features the most basic romantic comedy plot around, yet tries to jazz up the proceedings with ripped-off supernatural comedy leanings that were more eloquently arranged in the Steven Martin comedy “All of Me” (not to mention countless other ghost movies), and a bizarrely dramatic subplot about “pulling the plug” that mucks greatly with the tone of the film. Waters thickens the mix further by trying to sloppily shoehorn in a love story that is so clumsy it’s sickening. At one point, David comments on how “pretty” Elizabeth is while she lies in her coma. That’s the smooth Waters way of introducing the romantic connection between the two characters early on. And, with the speed of a fat man on a steep slip-n-slide, it just plummets downhill from there.
The argument could be made that Waters is just coasting on the charms of Reese Witherspoon, who struck gold with her last painful romantic comedy, “Sweet Home Alabama” (boy, she sure loves those song titles). “Heaven” doesn’t require anything more from Witherspoon than to stand in a corner and say her lines while sporting a sensible haircut, and that’s probably a good thing. Witherspoon is playing her umpteenth “high-maintenance professional” character in “Heaven,” providing zero challenge to her acting skills, and furthering that ugly Hollywood standard where all a successful career-minded woman needs is a good man to tame her.
On the other hand, Mark Ruffalo should know better. After urinating in the press on his easy but strong work in the exceedingly charming “13 Going On 30,” Ruffalo heads right back to the same role without a fuss, killing his reputation as a serious actor further. To be fair, Ruffalo is the only saving grace in “Heaven,” for without his drunk-on-cold-medicine facial gestures and askew line readings, all would be lost. But you can see the desperation in Ruffalo’s eyes that this film is killing his spirit. You can see that having to make kissy faces at Reese Witherspoon is the last thing he would like to be doing.
I understand that “Just Like Heaven” is supposed to be cute and harmless. However, I find it difficult to just stand by and recommend a film that is striving for mediocrity and can’t even manage to achieve that. Romantic comedies can withstand a lot more heart and respect, and this tripe doesn’t bother with either.
My rating: D-