|Just Like Heaven (2005)
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Mark Ruffalo, Donal Logue, Jon Heder
Director: Mark Waters
“Just Like Heaven” had the makings of a classic. You have the Queen of Hollywood (sorry, Julia) teamed up with the most unlikely yet most capable male romantic lead there is today, starring in a smart, otherworldly love story. So what went wrong? They tried too hard to make a movie that literally everyone would enjoy. Had they gone the “Four Weddings and a Funeral” route, where the writers understood that their sense of humor was not everyone’s cup of tea and said ‘sod off’ to anyone who didn’t get their jokes, they would have easily made the best romantic comedy since, well, “Four Weddings and a Funeral.” And while “Just Like Heaven” is cute, and funny, and even smart, it’s dumber than it needs to be.
The movie begins with Dr. Elizabeth Masterson (Reese Witherspoon) cat napping during an all-day shift at the hospital, where she’s working herself to the bone to be able to stay on as an attendant. This dedication to her work makes her late to a blind date that her sister Abby (Dina Waters) has set up, and in her haste to get over there, she gets in a car accident. Cut to sulking apartment hunter David (Mark Ruffalo), who can’t find anything that he likes, until a pesky flier leads him to a gorgeous apartment that was recently vacated, though no one seems to know the particulars of the former tenant.
Of course, Elizabeth is the former tenant, though the first time David sees her (she reprimands him for not using a coaster for his beer), he’s drunk, so he doesn’t know if she’s nuts for thinking he’s a homeless man squatting in her apartment or if he’s nuts for seeing a very cute ghost in his new apartment. The problem is that Elizabeth doesn’t exactly remember who she is at first, and so she needs David, who has suffered nothing but insolence from her up to this point, to help her figure out whom she is. Once they accomplish that, however, they realize that things are much more complicated than they could possibly have imagined.
The parts that work well in fact work incredibly well. Witherspoon and Ruffalo know that they have their work cut out for them, since there have been umpteen zillion movies involving the ice maiden and the loosey goosey slob that melts her heart, but they rise above it thanks to a (relatively) snappy script by Peter Tolan and Leslie Dixon that steps outside of those stereotypes and humanizes both Elizabeth and David. Director Mark Waters, one of the few who owes a debt of gratitude to Lindsay Lohan (he directed both “Freaky Friday” and “Mean Girls” before this), wisely keeps things simple, treating all characters living or otherwise equally, and not resorting to special effects mumbo jumbo unless he has to.
The biggest problem with the movie is when they decide (or stoop, depending on your point of view) to reference other movies, and then make it painfully aware that they are in fact referencing other movies. For example, when the guys in grey jump suits and improbable “guns” and other gadgetry show up to get rid of Elizabeth, the background music is – wait for it – a remake of the theme to “Ghostbusters,” as if you hadn’t connected the dots on your own. They also make a reference to “The Exorcist” that could have been funny, if only they had given the audience an ounce of credit and spun it into something original. Perhaps the most egregious error was in cribbing “Ghost,” where Elizabeth tortures David in a way that all concerned with the movie should have immediately considered verboten. Worse, the soundtrack choices were heavy handed to say the least. Elizabeth gets into her wreck while cranking “Good Times Roll.” The slut down the hall tries to seduce David, while Kelis sings “Brass in Pocket.” And, again, see the “Ghostbusters” bit. A lighter touch would have done a world of good.
I understand that 99% of the people who read this site are reluctant to see a “chick flick,” but truth be told, this is a pretty easy bullet to take. Witherspoon is her usual spunky, believable, adorable self, and she’s surrounded by a very competent supporting cast (props to Donal Logue and even space case Jon “Napoleon Dynamite” Heder for grounding the movie, in the least literal way possible). The movie’s biggest problem is that it could have been a lot better, but the filmmakers were clearly so freaked out about the movie making money that the finished product suffers a little. As soon as Hollywood realizes that it is this very fraidy cat mentality that got them into this horrible recession to begin with, the better off we’ll all be, frankly.
The single-disc release of Mark Waters' remake of "Just Like Heaven" features an audio commentary track with editor Bruce Green and cinematographer Daryn Okada (boring), as well as a "Meet the Cast" featurette and a making-of documentary. Also included on the disc are a handful of deleted scenes and a short gag reel. Not too much to see here folks, but we hardly doubt you're buying the DVD for the less-than-average bonus material.