This sprawling, celebrity-packed exploration of the romantic holiday wants to be the American Love Actually, but it doesn’t have quite the same appeal. (Me, I’d nominate He’s Just Not That Into You instead.)
I originally saw it in the theater on the holiday with my husband and parents because it was an inoffensive choice. We knew that we’d be at least partially entertained, even if some of us enjoyed it more than others. It was a nice way to waste two hours, a pretty journey with the expected message. I suspect, no matter what anyone says about it, in fan households, it’ll become a holiday staple. (And they’re already working on a similarly themed followup, New Year’s Eve.) Note, though, that some of the enjoyment may be lost once you know the various plot twists.
I was pleasantly surprised by how well Ashton Kutcher anchors the film as both a florist delivering to a number of couples and a young lover who starts the day by proposing to Jessica Alba. His performance is the standout for me. There’s a storyline for almost everyone:
- Jamie Foxx is a reporter who hates the day sent out to gather fluff coverage about the holiday.
- Jessica Biel is his female equivalent, a high-powered PR rep trying to set up an evening with the girls in order to distract herself.
- Bradley Cooper and Julia Roberts commiserate while taking a long flight home, each to their loves, both of whom are surprises.
- Her niece Emma Roberts is plotting to lose her virginity to high school boyfriend Carter Jenkins (who?). Their friends, the Taylors, Lautner and Swift, provide comic relief with their goofy, on-the-nose portrayal of self-obsessed teens in love. (The humor is a bit over-the-top, sometimes meta-textual, but firmly in keeping with director Garry Marshall’s sitcom roots. Swift will someday be a fine actress if she stops trying so hard. And my personal freaky moment: I own the exact same sweater worn by Emma’s teacher, played by sometimes Daily Show contributor Kristen Schaal.)
- Jennifer Garner thinks she’s in love with doctor Patrick Dempsey, but she doesn’t yet know his secret. (Also in the film: his Grey’s Anatomy co-star Eric Dane.)
- Hector Elizondo, always a pleasure to see, and Shirley MacLaine provide an older couple view of commitment.
- Meanwhile, Topher Grace and Anne Hathaway are a cute young couple with the best prospects of any in the film. (She gets to show off with some funny accents and such.)
- There’s even a cute kid with his first crush for all those Awwwww moments.
It is a bit surprising how many of these couplings don’t work out the way expected, with plenty of unpleasant secrets and frankly, not very good prospects. But it’s that air of believing in love in spite of being jaded that makes the film of its time. It’s aimed as widely as possible, with a happily mainstream soundtrack and approach to content that just wants to be loved. The movie doesn’t want to be art; it just wants to be popular.
It could have been shorter. Tighter editing would have made some of the comic relief (especially with the younger actors) funnier, and a few of the scenes feel as though someone said, “well, we’ve got (actor), we’d better give (him/her) something more to do.” The extra space doesn’t tell us more about the characters, since they’re sketchily drawn stereotypes. Whether or not they work depends on the individual performer’s skill and charm. And whether or not you like it depends on your tolerance for this type of film and how many of the stars included here you like watching. (Personally, I would have re-juggled some of the couples, including have Dempsey’s character come out since he seemed to be trying way too hard heterosexually.)
Be sure, when you watch it, to stick around for the outtakes during the end credits, since Julia Roberts’ last line in them is one of the funniest in the movie.
The only DVD special features are 14 deleted scenes with introductions by Garry Marshall explaining why they were cut. (I’m guessing that this is the only time you will hear this movie compared to Warren Beatty’s Reds.) The Blu-ray has additional bits: Marshall’s commentary, star Valentine’s Day stories, a gag reel, a music video by Jewel, and something called “The Garry Factor”, which is reported to be five minutes of the stars talking about how great he is as a director. I’m beginning to better appreciate the bare-bones DVD versions, since I would wind up finding time to listen to the commentary, and I’m not sure I would get anything more out of what he had to say about the film.
Because I’m always curious about what co-promotions say about the intended audience: Opening trailers on the disc include
- the upcoming release of Sex and the City 2 — obvious choice, and a longer version is also available as a listed DVD menu item
- a movie I’d never heard of called Preacher’s Kid, about a spunky young woman who wants to make it as a singer and the conflicts with her faith — the ad says “Coming to Theaters” even though the DVD was out earlier this month
- a period trailer for Doctor Zhivago, I guess to promote the anniversary re-release just out
- Gone With the Wind on Blu-ray
- the upcoming, incredibly creepy-looking Bachelor videogame
- a Wii beach party game
- a set of clips of people in the movies watching movies to promote AFI preservation efforts, from which I learned that mostly guys watch films, although they did include the cute blonde girl from Poltergeist, even though she’s watching TV
I mention these because, while they started out obvious, they got increasingly weird, to the point where I was staring in repulsed fascination by the time they got to the videogames. On the one hand, yay for realizing that women are gamers, too; on the other, I don’t know that Americans are ready for dating videogames, although perhaps couching the final round in terms of the rose ceremony is more acceptable than some of the Japanese dating sim approaches. (The studio provided a review copy.)