© 2005 Ray Wong
Stars: Reese Witherspoon, Mark Ruffalo, Donal Logue, Dina Waters, Ben Shenkman, John Heder, Ivana Milicevic, Rosalind Chao
Director: Mark Waters
Writers: Peter Tolan, Leslie Dixon (based on Marc Levy’s novel If Only It Were True)
Distributor: DreamWorks SKG
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some sexual content, partial nudity
Running time: 95 minutes
Script – 7
Performance – 7
Direction – 8
Cinematography – 7
Editing – 7
Production – 7
Total Score – 7.1 out of 10
After a string of stinkers in the romantic comedy department this year, Hollywood seems to be out of ideas. At first glance, JUST LIKE HEAVEN is just like yet another paranormal romance (CHANCES ARE, CITY OF ANGELS). Surprisingly, it delivers something a little fresh and a whole lot of fun.
Elizabeth Masterson (Witherspoon) is an ambitious San Francisco doctor with no personal life or friends. “Workaholic” won’t even do her justice. Her nosy sister Abby (Waters) tries very hard to set her up with every eligible bachelor in town. On her way to a blind date, Elizabeth loses control of her car and comes to a head-on collision with a truck…
David Abbott (Ruffalo) is a withdrawn loner who is looking for a nice apartment with a good couch. Eventually, he moves into Elizabeth’s quaint apartment, which is being sublet on a month-to-month basis. At first, everything seems fine, until David starts to encounter Elizabeth’s spirit. First she wants David to move out of “her” apartment, then she wants him to help her figure out who she was and what has happened to her. Then inevitably, they fall for each other, even though any romance between them seems impossible. But as they always say: love finds a way.
Witherspoon (VANITY FAIR) assumes the Meg Ryan-esque role with spunk. Her portrayal of Elizabeth is somewhat two-dimensional in the beginning – we never really get a sense of why a cute, young thing like her would be such a loner. However, as we warm up to her as a spirit, her character eventually comes to life (Ironic, isn’t it? Or is that intentional?) We get to see bits and pieces of Elizabeth behind that ambitious, control-freak exterior. She does a good job not making Elizabeth irritating. Ruffalo (COLLATERAL), in his full-on romantic lead role since 13 GOING ON 30, is fetching and charming in a slacker sort of way. He has a very funny scene, reminiscent of ALL OF ME, and a touching scene in which he recounts a heartbreaking tragedy.
The film works because Witherspoon and Ruffalo have great chemistry together. It helps, too, when the supporting cast is up to task. Logue (AMERICAN SPLENDOR) has a lot of fun as David’s gruff, womanizing psychiatrist friend. Waters (HAUNTED MANSION) plays ditzy well as Elizabeth’s loopy sister, and Heder (NAPOLEON DYNAMITE) is perfect (and typecast) as the dorky guy who can communicate with spirits.
Granted, JUST LIKE HEAVEN is nothing groundbreaking. In many ways, it’s a standard romantic comedy with an interesting paranormal twist. The characters are often two-dimensional and some of the things they do just make me want to roll my eyes and sigh. Certain things simply defy logic. But! It’s a romantic fantasy, so I’m willing to give it some leeway. The script, by Tolan (GUESS WHO) and Dixon (FREAKY FRIDAY) and based on Mark Levy’s novel, is brisk in pace and rich in humor. The ghostly encounters are really funny, thanks to sharp dialogue and clever delivery from the leads. The twist in the middle is unexpected and well-executed (and thanks to smart marketing and writing, nothing is revealed in advance).
Director Waters (MEAN GIRLS) excels in this type of lighthearted fluff. His storytelling is straightforward with not a frame wasted. Structurally, the film is clockwork, with every element in its right place. It’s light and it does the job – putting a smile on our faces. As long as we’re not looking for deeper meaning in life (there are some blatant Hollywood-style messages, of course), for those of us hopeless romantics, this could be a romantic comedy made in heaven.