The Barenaked Archives – Just Like Heaven

Just Like Heaven - PosterFrom 2003 up until 2007, I was lucky enough to have “movie reviewer” as my job description. As such, I’ve built up a *lot* of reviews for just about every movie that came out during those years, as well as reviews of classic movies.

The Barenaked Archives are reviews that I did for two previous websites. Sadly, they are both gone, so this is now the only place online you can see these old columns.

As a critic, you feel you shouldn’t like romantic comedies. They are hands-down the most predictable genre: boy meets girl, stuff happens to keep them apart, boy and girl get together in the end. Kiss, commit, and roll credits. It’s a visual blueprint for the ultimate fantasy relationship. And when you’re a single cynic, it can alternately warm your girly heart and tickle your gag reflex.

Of course, they are probably the most reliable genre as far as movies go, because every weekend there are thousands of women ready to drag unsuspecting boyfriends/husbands/other friends to watch them. (Yes, I was one once.)

As far as romantic comedies go, Just Like Heaven is more palatable than most, based solely on the likeability of Reese Witherspoon and Mark Ruffalo as leads.

Elizabeth Masterson (Witherspoon) is a workaholic doctor with no personal life to speak of. And after a horrible wreck, she’s also no longer in possession of a corporeal body. Enter David Abbott (Ruffalo), an anti-coaster couch potato who leases Elizabeth’s apartment. Turns out he’s the only one who can see or hear Elizabeth, and thus the only person who can help her figure out who she was. Of course, this movie being what it is, David ends up falling for his less-than-tangible roommate.

As I said before, the only real reason this movie succeeds in any way, shape, or form is because of the performances of its leads. Reese Witherspoon is one of the few actresses who can pull off ditzy (as in Legally Blonde) and then come across here as a believable doctor. She’s actually more fun as a ghost than as a real person, as she really lets David have it when she thinks he’s squatting in her apartment.

Mark Ruffalo isn’t the sort we expect to see in a romantic comedy, but he does a good job. He’s originally convinced Elizabeth is an alcohol-induced hallucination, and their first scenes together are probably the funniest in the movie, with each of them trying to figure out who the other is and what said other is doing in their apartment.

However, the people behind this movie sadly underused the person who could possibly be its biggest draw: Jon “Napoleon Dynamite” Heder as Darryl, a very mellow psychic whose favorite phrase is “righteous.” He’s funny and an unlikely ally to David in the quest to either a) get rid of Elizabeth or b) find out who she is. I warn the studio bosses not to underestimate the high school/college crowd’s near-obsessive love for Napoleon Dynamite and thus for Heder.

Aside from the standard whines of predictability (my friend guessed the “twist” fifteen minutes in), the pacing in the movie also seems to be off. Some sequences pass too quickly while others drag longer than they should. It leaves the movie feeling uneven after the first 45 minutes or so.

Also, parts of the plot also seem to rely quite a bit on coincidence and “fate.” The sad thing is the whole “fate” thing really isn’t necessary. By the end, it just feels a little contrived, like they were trying to come up with a reason for why it was so important these two wind up together. It’s a romantic comedy, okay? We don’t need manufactured reasons the screenwriters came up with at 3 a.m. to make the meeting of the leads “fate.” For the hour and a half that these movies last, we will buy true, undying, can’t-live-without-each-other love.

Just Like Heaven is what it is and makes no apologies for it. So if you’re in the mood to watch boy meet girl and deal with the supernatural, then you can’t really go wrong.

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