It’s Love Actually, American Style as Garry Marshall assembles a rom-com dream team for his hyperlink take on Valentine’s Day. The film could have given us stories as rich and diverse as a heart-shaped box of chocolates. Instead, it’s more like a bag of Hershey Kisses – Not much variety, but sweet enough to get the job done.
Check out our review…
- Director: Garry Marshall
- Producer: Mike Karz, Wayne Allan Rice, and Josie Rosen
- Written By: Katherine Fugate (screenplay), Katherine Fugate, Abby Kohn, and Marc Silverstein (story)
- Starring: Jessica Alba, Kathy Bates, Jessica Biel, Bradley Cooper, Eric Dane, Patrick Dempsey, Hector Eliz0ndo, Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, Topher Grace, Anne Hathaway, Ashton Kutcher, Queen Latifah, Taylor Lautner, George Lopez, Shirley MacLaine, Emma Roberts, Julia Roberts, and Taylor Swift
The story follows umpteen intertwining stories of romance, relationships, dating, and breakups over the course of the eponymous holiday in Los Angeles. Stories range from tragic to funny to romantic and capture all stages of relationships and ages of those who inhabit them.
- The Final 40 Minutes: Clearly, this is the part of the film that can’t be discussed in any detail without spoiling major plot revelations, but suffice to say it’s where the movie really finds itself. It ambles with no real purpose for two-thirds of its running time, but once it starts to wrap up the tales, it finally starts getting things right. The problem with any hyperlink film, is controlling so many stories in a way that makes them feel cohesive. The best way to do this is by making sure they stay on a similar emotional plane as the film develops. This is done expertly as the film reaches its conclusion, with enough there to make ignoring its initial failings possible.
- The Following Characters/Stories: There are no fewer than 21 main characters in this film and about a dozen inter-connecting stories. Some work, some don’t. Here are the ones that work:
- Jason & Liz: Played by Topher Grace and Anne Hathaway, this couple is just beginning their relationship. He’s a prospective agent, currently slumming in the mailroom, from Indiana and she’s an aspiring poet (okay, so nobody wants to be a poet anymore, but we’ll let that slide) moonlighting as a phone sex operator. The story is a bit lame, but the actors are so charming that any flaws breeze by. They’d be great in a feature together.
- Reed & Alphonso: Ashton Kutcher and George Lopez play the owner and employee of a flower shop, respectively. Their chemistry is instant and their story informs much of the action in the rest of the film. Easily the most believable relationship in the movie.
- Sean Jackson: Played by Eric Dane, this free agent NFL quarterback is feeling lost. His story is a bit strange for much of the movie, but once its twist comes, it pays off delightfully.
- Cpt. Kate Hazeltine: Similar to Jackson, Julia Roberts’ Hazeltine is a bit of a mystery. You may see her twist coming (I did) but it provides the best scene of the movie either way.
- Clumsy Exposition: The hardest thing about hyperlink films is introducing the many different stories in a way that doesn’t feel like the beginning of several different parallel movies. This requires a very elegant touch that Valentine’s Day is lacking. For nearly the entire first half of the film, we’re shown one beginning after another with nothing to connect the stories either tonally or plot-wise. It’s simply 10 different beginnings all in a row, like going to a film festival and running from screening to screening. The movie does tie them together eventually, but the outset is laborious to watch.
- The Lack of Variety: So many of the stories follow the same path. Big plans, complication, now we’re happy again! With so much to examine as it relates to love, it would have been nice to see a little bit of diversity in the plotlines, rather than following the same path many different times. Plus, in a film set in Los Angeles, it might be nice to see a cast that isn’t about 85% white.
- Aborted Framing Devices: Initially, the film attempts to frame the stories in two different ways. One involves a creepy radio DJ, playing love songs all day long, the other is a news reporter (Jamie Foxx) interviewing people about love. These could have connected the overall story nicely, instead they simply intrude at odd times, like the director forgot they were in the script, and actually take away from the film – exactly the opposite of their purpose.
- Non-Sequitur Gags: Also distracting from the loose collection of stories are a series of cut-away sight gags. Sometimes these involve the film’s main repertory company, other times it’s something entirely unrelated. These gags come up often enough to be very noticeable and are almost always unfunny. There’s nothing wrong with a cut-away joke that leaves the story for a moment, but it should only be there if it’s going to get a laugh, and these never do.
- The Following Stories/Characters: With so many stories and characters, there’s bound to be some good to go with the bad. Like:
- Kelvin Moore: Played by Jamie Foxx, Moore is instantly unlikeable as a sports anchor who is miffed to be covering Valentine’s Day, expressing his devout avoidance of women in February despite being a ‘player’. Lame and a bit gross all the way.
- Kara Monahan: Played by Jessica Biel, she is a woman who hates Valentine’s Day! And throws a singles appreciation party! And eats a lot of candy! I know what you’re thinking – that sounds totally original, how can it fail? Actually, it’s worse than it sounds thanks to Biel’s shrill performance.
- Felicia and Willy: Played by Taylor Swift and Taylor Lautner, these are two lunkheaded high schoolers who are supposed to be the funniest parts of the movie. They’d be a lot funnier if they were played by two actors with a clue about how to play comedy.
- Reed & Morley: As pleasant as his scenes are with Lopez are, Kutcher’s work with Jessica Alba as his new fiancee are teeth-grindingly trite. It’s a shame it’s only plagiarism if you rip off one movie, because their story rips off about forty-seven different films.
Valentine’s Day will never stand up to cold analysis. It’s a bit too scattered, has too many weak links, and takes so long to get going that it’s easy to lose interest early on. However, none of that seems to matter for this film, because as clunky as the movie is through much of the early going, it manages to gracefully wrap up all its stories with a conclusion that is both satisfying and establishes an overall tone for the film.
Those looking for a collection of quick and breezy love stories will be delighted with this film, probably ignoring many of its initial shortcomings. They’re a bit hard to get past for the discerning viewer, but the movie pays off at the end just enough to recommend it.
Valentine’s Day opens in wide release on February 12, 2010
Also, as a public service, there are outtakes over the closing credits, so stick around.