Just Like Heaven is sappy, clumsy, and overflowing with estrogen. But it works.
Never straying too far from the romantic comedy formula, Just Like Heaven tells the story of Elizabeth Masterson (Reese Witherspoon, Legally Blonde). She’s a workaholic intern at St. Matthews General Hospital in San Francisco whose love life flat-lined years ago. A quick peek at an X-ray and she knows the proper treatment; she’s even adept at using two computers at once. Her friends hope and pray some day she’ll meet a man, one who isn’t bleeding.
Then there’s David Abbott (Mark Ruffalo, Collateral). He’s a somber soul, a loner who drinks himself to sleep with cheap domestic beer while mourning the loss of his wife from a brain hemorrhage two years earlier. He’s glum and his wardrobe matches his dark mood.
As fate would have it, Elizabeth slips into a coma following a car accident while en route to visiting her sister and David moves into her vacant, impeccably furnished apartment.
David, it should be stressed, is an odd chap. Elizabeth’s palatial apartment is the only one with access to the rooftop and its glorious view of beautiful downtown San Francisco. There’s even a hot brunette neighbor who’s lonely and on the prowl for a man. But the thing that sells David on the place is Elizabeth’s couch.
What makes this movie work as well as it does is its cast. Witherspoon is comfortable in her role and she has never looked better while Ruffalo revisits the quiet good guy territory he covered in 13 Going on 30. But the supporting cast offers the most surprises and they help flesh out the world of the lead characters.
For starters, Dina Waters (yes, Mrs. Mark Waters, wife of the director) makes a star turn as Elizabeth’s sister, Abby. As the frenzied mother of two girls, she moves from sweet to psycho faster than… Well, put your own witty analogy here.
Also excelling in a relatively small role is Jon Heder (Mr. Napoleon Dynamite himself) as Darryl, a supernatural guru working in a metaphysical bookstore. He delivers some of the movie’s best lines, including an admonition to David for bringing the spirit of Elizabeth into his bookstore, “You can’t bring that thing in here! What are you thinking about?”
Donal Logue (The Patriot) is just right as Jack, David’s best friend, drinking buddy, scruffy playboy, and hack psychiatrist. He props up David’s credibility as a character by chiding him to loosen up and get a date.
From Here to Eternity
The story has a couple large gaps in logic, but given love knows no logic anyway, a romantic comedy should be allowed its flights of fantasy and departure from sound reasoning. Besides, the movie’s about a guy who falls in love with a girl only he can see, so where’s the logic in that?
It’s a dicey premise to pull off and Just Like Heaven manages to earn its goodwill as the movie progresses. Sure, there are elements from any number of other love stories past in this one, but two less obvious influences lie just beneath the covers. In some ways, Just Like Heaven feels like A Christmas Carol meets E.T. as Elizabeth’s spirit realizes the error of her ways, dedicating too much time to work and not enough time to life, leaving her hoping for a resurrection worthy of a John Williams score.
There is a silly lightheadedness to the proceedings, but it’s balanced nicely with a good heart. Its goofy demeanor and aloof characters make it a far more amiable affair than the “know-it-all,” preachy shenanigans of other recent rom-com fodder, particularly Hitch.
And, unlike so many other romantic comedies of late featuring Kate Hudson, Angelina Jolie, and even the self-infatuated Woody Allen, the ridiculous situations faced by Elizabeth and David are treated as such, with a light touch and a wink.
Just Like Heaven is a fluffy and breezy entertainment. Nothing more. Nothing less.