JUST LIKE HEAVEN
***1/2 (out of 5)
September 16, 2005
Reese Witherspoon as ELIZABETH MASTERSON
Mark Ruffalo as DAVID ABBOTT
Donal Logue as JACK HOURISKEY
Dina Waters as ABBY BRODY
Ben Shenkman as BRETT RUSHTON
Jon Heder as DARRYL
Ivana Milicevic as KATRINA
Directed by: Mark Waters
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
With films like “Sweet Home Alabama” and the “Legally Blonde” series under her belt, Reese Witherspoon is making a nice career for herself doing romantic comedies. That’s probably not a bad thing for her, considering her so-called “serious” acting career isn’t doing much for her. That may change after “Walking the Line” comes out this year. But until then, her bankability as a star comes from the good, old fashioned rom com department.
In her latest film, “Just Like Heaven,” Witherspoon plays Elizabeth Masterson, a young doctor who is so into her work that the rest of the world practically didn’t exist. One night, on the way home, she gets is a devastating car accident, and her almost nonexistent life is cut short.
Several months later, her family is subletting her furnished apartment to a depressed landscaper named David Abbott (Mark Ruffalo). Everything about the apartment is great, except that David starts seeing apparitions of Elizabeth in and around the apartment. At first, he thinks he’s going crazy, but soon he learns that she was a real person. Making a truce between the real world and the spiritual realm, Elizabeth and David partner together to try to find out what happened to her and how she could get out of this predicament.
In a strange way, the role of a woman who is almost dead was very appropriate for Witherspoon. Apparently, she prepared for the part by almost starving herself to death. At least that’s what I can assume by how freakishly thin she looks. I remember the day when Reese Witherspoon has some meat on her bones. Unfortunately, now she’s joined the ranks of scary-skinny actresses in Hollywood who look like Q-tips.
But emaciated lead actresses aside, “Just Like Heaven” is actually a really sweet film. It proudly pushes all the right buttons for a romantic comedy. There’s nothing terribly original about this film, and it’s pretty predictable. We’ve seen similar supernatural love stories before in movies like “Ghost” and “City of Angels.” What counts in a romantic comedy is the execution of the formula.
“Freaky Friday” and “Mean Girls” director Mark Waters executes this formula very well. The film gets off to a bit of a rough start with some clunky chemistry between Witherspoon and Ruffalo. There’s several moments where Witherspoon seemed to phone in her lines, and there was no real emotional reaction she has when she realizes she’s a ghost.
The other weak spot is Mark Ruffalo, who never really works as a lead. However, he’s making a career for himself playing second fiddle to more famous actresses in romantic comedies (e.g., opposite Jennifer Garner in “13 Going on 30” or Gwyneth Paltrow in “View From the Top”). Think of him as a knock-off of Luke Wilson in his mainstream roles.
However, things start to look up at about the half-way point. As the movie rolls along, things get better and end on a very well done climax. Witherspoon and Ruffalo’s so-so chemistry is tempered by a great supporting cast, including Donal Logue as David’s best friend and Dina Waters as Elizabeth’s sister.
Of course the gold star in the supporting cast goes to John Heder of “Napoleon Dynamite” fame. He has only a small yet memorable role as a helpful, but ultra laid-back psychic. It is a work of casting genius to put him in the movie. Not only does he steal every scene he’s in (which is unfortunately too few), but he’s also a great hook for your male audience to see the movie with their girlfriends or wives.