Just Like Heaven
Director : s Mark Waters
Screenplay : Peter Tolan and Leslie Dixon (based on the novel If Only It Were True by Marc Levy)
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2005
Stars : Reese Witherspoon (Elizabeth Masterson), Mark Ruffalo (David Abbott), Donal Logue (Jack Houriskey), Dina Waters (Abby Brody), Ben Shenkman (Brett Rushton), Jon Heder (Darryl), Ivana Milicevic (Katrina), Rosalind Chao (Fran)
Chemistry is chemistry, and Reese Witherspoon and Mark Ruffalo have it in Just Like Heaven, a romantic fantasy about a man who falls in love with a woman’s disembodied spirit. It’s played with a light touch and a good sense of humor, which have become hallmarks of director Mark Waters, making his first non-Lindsey-Lohan-starring feature in several years after the surprisingly good Freaky Friday (2003) and Mean Girls (2004).
Reese Witherspoon, the current go-to girl of romantic comedy, stars as Elizabeth, an overworked, overcommitted doctor who gets in a terrible car accident while driving home one night from the hospital. Her spirit can only be seen by David Abbott (Mark Ruffalo), a shaggy, mournful lost soul who nurses his emotional wounds with lots of beer and hours spent vacantly staring at a TV screen.
David moves into Elizabeth’s apartment, which is still furnished with her belongings, and when he first sees her, she is unaware that anything has happened and simply thinks that he’s an intruder. The movie gets several good laughs out of Elizabeth’s completely convincing argument that the problem of her existence is all in David’s mind. Once she is convinced that not everything is as it should be, she and David set about trying to figure out who she was because she can’t remember anything about her life. (One wonders if the movie would have worked better if it had begun with David and not shown us Elizabeth’s life before the accident, thus making the mystery of her life a genuine mystery.)
The romance in Just Like Heaven works largely because Witherspoon and Ruffalo click so well. Their odd-couple pairing--she’s made her career on frothy romantic comedies like Legally Blonde (1999) and Sweet Home Alabama (2002) while he’s made his on offbeat independent films like You Can Count On Me (2001) and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)--has just the right blend of her perky charm and his hangdog every-guy authenticity. Ruffalo’s low-key bafflement plays straight man to Witherspoon’s high-strung perfectionism; when he hires a priest to try to exorcise her from her the apartment, she turns on her heel and announces that he’s responsible for mopping up the holy water on the floor.
Like most movies of its ilk, Just Like Heaven has a lot of feel-good messages to impart about embracing life and getting over past hurdles, but it all goes down smoothly in the clever script by veteran scribes Peter Tolan and Leslie Dixon, which is based on the novel If Only It Were True by Marc Levy. Director Mark Waters plays much of it for laughs, but he doesn’t force the material too much, even when Napoleon Dynamite’s Jon Heder drops in and tries to steal a few scenes as a laconic, long-haired psychic who is the only person to believe that David can see Elizabeth.
The story’s ultimate goal is to make a convincing argument for the romantic myth that certain people are simply meant to be together no matter what, especially when said people are lonely, kindred souls. Your ability to lose yourself in that kind of downy romanticism will go a long way in determining whether Just Like a Heaven is a little slice of H-town or a predictable drag through silly sentiment.
Copyright ©2005 James Kendrick
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All images copyright ©2005 DreamWorks Pictures