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Valentine's Day
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by Peter Sobczynski

"To Love And Lie In L.A."
4 stars

By all rights, I should be sitting here right now preparing to go after “Valentine’s Day” in much the same way that Al Capone went after his failure of a minion in “The Untouchables”--pounding it repeatedly with a baseball bat until its few brains begin leaking out onto the tablecloth. After all, it is long, ungainly, silly, mawkish and emotionally manipulative in a manner so shameless that it almost makes something like “Dear John” look stoic and restrained by comparison. And yet, while I know I could easily write such a review and that many of my colleagues will most likely be doing just that, I am not going to do so because despite all of its aforementioned flaws, I found myself somehow succumbing to its ungainly charms and its relentless desire to please audiences by any and all means necessary. At a time when Hollywood seems generally incapable of making a romantic comedy that isn’t shrill and stupid and filled with contemptuous people doing idiotic things, here is one that actually does work for the most part and while it may not necessarily reinvent the genre, it beats the likes of “The Ugly Truth” or “Leap Year” like a gong.

Set on (Spoiler Alert!) Valentine’s Day, the film follows the romantic ups and downs of a number of Los Angeles residents as they try to navigate the various pitfalls brought on by the day. Ashton Kutcher plays a goofy florist who, as the film kicks off, proposes to girlfriend Jessica Alba despite the fact that the chances of an engagement begun at the start of a film set on Valentine’s Day is probably not going to last very long. Jennifer Garner is his platonic best friend whose boyfriend, heart surgeon Patrick Dempsey, turns out to be a two-timing rotter. Topher Grace is an amiable dope who doesn’t realize that new girlfriend Anne Hathaway makes here living as a phone sex performer--apparently not a very good one since she conducts most of her calls while standing out on the sidewalk while traffic passes by. (Perhaps her client base consists entirely of the people from the good version of “Crash”). Hector Elizondo and Shirley MacLaine are a old couple whose seemingly perfect relationship is thrown into upheaval over the revelation of a long-ago indiscretion. Bryce Robinson is their too-cute-by-half moppet of a grandson who misses his absent mother and despairs of getting an order of flowers delivered to his super-secret valentine.

Julia Roberts and Bradley Cooper are a couple of strangers engaging in low-key banter on a flight home to see their loved ones. Emma Roberts and Carter Jenkins are a high school couple whose plans to have sex for the first time run into any number of snags. (Don’t worry, they literally announce to everyone that they are both over 18.) Taylor Swift and Taylor Lautner are another high school couple fully enmeshed in the initial giddiness of the kind of first love best expressed by a teddy bear the size of a Volkswagen. Eric Dane is an aging pro football quarterback preparing to make a public statement about his future. And yes, there are even a couple of cynical party poopers to boot in the form of neurotic press agent Jessica Biel, whose inability to find romance lead her to throw annual “I Hate Valentine’s Day” parties and Jamie Foxx as a news reporter who hates Valentine’s Day doing man-on-the-street interviews with people about why they love Valentine’s Day. Just in case the cast isn’t big enough for you, the film also finds room for supporting turns from Kathy Bates, George Lopez and Queen Latifah, cameo appearances ranging from the like of Joe Mantenga and Larry Miller to numerous ESPN personalities to an unseen Paul Williams as a deejay whose banter provides a linking device of sorts.

To say that Katherine Fugate’s screenplay is overstuffed is an understatement for the ages--there are enough plot lines and characters on display here to fully stock at least three separate feature films, not to mention healthy deleted scenes sections on the DVD. In translating such an unwieldy narrative from the page to the screen, director Garry Marshall essentially treats the film like one giant party for which he is the more than effusive host by introducing us to one set of characters, moving us on to the next after a few minutes and repeating this until we have made the full circuit a few times and are ready to go home. This is actually a lot more complicated than it sounds and it is to the credit of Marshall that he pulls it off as well as he does. Yes, there are some plot threads that could have easily been eliminated (especially the ones involving the little kid, the horny teens and the football player) and characters who are so undeveloped that they might as well have been eliminated (Jessica Alba’s character keeps popping up long after her usefulness to the story has ended and Bradley Cooper essentially winds up playing the punch line to someone else’s story) but for the most part, Marshall does a pretty good job of keeping things moving along at a decent clip without letting things get too bogged down at any given point. More importantly, he knows that the best way to sell material as unabashedly corny and predictable as this is do it in the most seemingly straightforward and uncynical manner possible. Look, there is not a single moment on display here that you cannot see coming a mile away and not a single emotional button that isn’t pushed over and over but he puts forth his manipulations in such a disarmingly direct manner that even though I recognized how ruthlessly I was being worked over at any given moment, it didn’t bother me that much in the long run.

The other secret to the success of “Valentine’s Day” is the deft manner in which Marshall has filled out its jumbo-sized cast. With so many characters jockeying for attention, there is obviously no way to properly flesh them out without winding up with the kind of running time that even Bela Tarr might find excessive. Instead, Marshall has cast the parts with actors whose own personal personas fit their characters to such a degree that most of their work is done the moment that we first see them--Kutcher as the goofy-but-sweet-natured dope, Garner as the pretty girl that we don’t want to see get hurt, Alba as the babe who looks and seems a little too good to be true, Grace as the wide-eyed naive Midwestern type, Hathaway as the sweet-faced gal with the hidden saucy side, MacLaine is the brash and bawdy oldster and so on. Obviously, no one is going to be carting home any awards for their work here but for the most part, the actors are engaging and it is a lot of fun to watch them bouncing off of one another. The only bit of casting that strikes a wrong note is that of Jessica Biel as the lovelorn one--if you are going to cast the role of a neurotic woman who can’t find romance and whose deepest and truest relationship is with the candy that she obsessively munches on throughout the film, perhaps casting someone once named Sexiest Woman in the World is not necessarily the best one. On the other hand, Taylor Swift makes the most of her screen debut--even though her scenes don’t really have much to do with the rest of the film and often feel as though they were added in at the last minute in order to lure in younger viewers, she brings such energy, humor and good cheer to her scenes that I for one would actually like to see what she could do with a real part someday.

Look, “Valentine’s Day” is not perfect by any means--it meanders at times, it has too many characters and plot threads for its own good and I cannot stress just how annoying I found all the material involving the little kid to be--and in the hands of other people, it might have been absolutely unendurable. On the other hand, it has a game and attractive cast, a few big laughs here and there (my favorites being a little boy’s intriguing explanation as to the origins of Valentine’s Day and a bit of Bulgarian-related weirdness that is best left to be discovered on its own) and it is nowhere near as offensive to the heart, mind and soul as many of the romantic comedies that have come around the path in the last few months have been. Essentially, a film like this is like a visit to the cinematic equivalent of a buffet restaurant. On the one hand, the food as a whole isn’t spectacular, there are some items on display that are difficult to digest and when you are finished with it, you probably won’t want to encounter such a thing again for a long time to come. On the other hand, some of the selections are mighty tasty indeed and while it may not be as satisfying as a fancy meal, it is certainly filling enough and while it may cause acute indigestion in those with more refined palates, those willing to accept it for what it is and nothing more will likely find that it hits the spot quite nicely.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=19120&reviewer=389
originally posted: 02/12/10 00:06:34
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User Comments

7/12/20 Suzanne The little kid was darling. 3 stars
6/16/12 ady boy Does Jessica Biel really have an acting career? How. 2 stars
11/06/10 Will Russell Emotional porn. 2 stars
7/03/10 puddleduck A mishmash of badness that even Julie Roberts can save 1 stars
6/03/10 gc A romantic comedy that is niether funny nor romantic. And Taylor Swift CANNOT act 1 stars
5/23/10 Justin Didn't meet my expectations, but was far better than your grammar & spelling. 4 stars
2/14/10 Eric Peter, 4 stars seems excessive for a movie that basically succeeds at not being horrible. 2 stars
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  12-Feb-2010 (PG-13)
  DVD: 18-May-2010


  DVD: 18-May-2010

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