Feb 2010 12

An all star cast joins forces to celebrate love in the new Garry Marshall film Valentine’s Day.  It’s a cast so star-studded, it has to be listed alphabetically to sooth competing egos: Jessica Alba, Jessica Biel, Bradley Cooper, Patrick Dempsey, Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, Topher Grace, Anne Hathaway, Ashton Kutcher, Queen Latifah, Taylor Lautner, George Lopez, Shirley MacLaine, Julia Roberts and Taylor Swift.  It’s enough to make TMZ’s head explode.  There isn’t one cohesive story but instead five or six tangentially interconnecting ones.  The movie is clearly modeled on Love Actually but its overly-episodic structure at times makes it feel more like Love, American Style.  [morelink]

The film is a cliché-riddled extravaganza.  But most romantic-comedies are.  Kutcher and Alba play a newly engaged couple.  (Much of the action revolves around Kutcher since his character owns a floral shop and it’s Valentine’s Day and all.)  Hathaway and Grace play a couple that have just started dating and aren’t exactly sure how much effort to put into Valentine’s Day without weirding out the other one.  I could go on and on listing the various mini-plots that make up this film.  It’s almost overwhelming at times.  The cast is so expansive that the film is still introducing main characters almost forty minutes in.

Marshall is veteran of the sit-com.  His resume includes some classics: Happy Days, Mork & Mindy, Laverne & Shirley, The Odd Couple to name a few.  His pedigree is clearly on display here.  The film plays like an extended soundtrack.  All that’s missing is the laugh track…and I do mean missing.  Sit-coms are notorious for “sweetening” a lackluster with script with extra laughs.  Even when it’s not being overdone, it adds a comforting amount of chortles that work as a reminder that you’re watching a comedy.  It’s a crutch of the genre but one that most American viewers have become accustomed to.  Ever wonder why those episodes of your favorite sit-coms always felt weird whenever they wandered outside of a studio-set like, say, The Facts of Life Goes to Paris?  It’s because there was no laugh track.  Much of the film feels akin to a laugh-trackless sit-com.  Not bad, per se, but run of the mill.  And it spends so much time establishing characters that it has difficulty ever finding its footing.  Though the final half-hour is the strongest.  Oddly, I almost feel like it’s the rare movie that could result in a significantly better sequel.  After all, one of the benefits of television is that it can assume that you already know how the characters are.  Unencumbered by exposition and character building, I think the filmmakers could produce a slick piece of commercial comedy.

Given the recent spate of romantic-comedies, Valentine’s Day is head-and-shoulders above misfires like Did You Hear About the Morgans or All About Steve.  But it doesn’t even come close to capturing the magic of a true modern day classic like (500) Days of Summer.  Like box of candy, it’s a harmless Valentine’s Day treat…and just about as filling.

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being Love Actually and 1 being The Ugly Truth, Valentine’s Day gets a 4.


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