Having given us one of the quintessential romantic comedies in the form of Pretty Woman (1990), Garry Marshall dips into the sentimental once more with a portmanteau film looking at the lives and loves of people in Los Angeles on Valentine’s Day.
As the holiday of love begins some are revelling in the
magic of the day. Reed (Ashton Kutcher) wakes his girlfriend Morley (Jessica
Alba) by proposing to her, while Julia (Jennifer Garner) is delighted to simply
have a boyfriend, Harrison, (Patrick Dempsey) in her life.
On the other hand
there are those that are less than enthralled by the day. Kelvin Moore (Jamie
Foxx) is a sports reporter who is forced to put a breaking story on hold to go
and cover Valentine’s Day. He is not alone in his cynicism, as Kara (Jessica
Biel) organises an anti Valentine’s Day party. Then there are those who are
blissfully unaware of the day like Jason (Topher Grace) who must suddenly make
plans with his new girlfriend Liz (Anne Hathaway) while she tries to keep a
secret from him.
Obviously, the course of true love never runs smooth and as the film unfolds so
some of the lovers will unravel and others will be drawn to each other in ways
that they never thought possible.
Valentine’s Day is essentially an American re-imagining of
Richard Curtis’ 2003 opus Love Actually. What Curtis achieved was to take all
the rom-com clichés and wrap them up in one neat and enjoyable Christmas gift.
All those devices are present in Valentine’s Day. From the rush to the airport
to stop someone leaving, the guy realising he is in love with his best friend,
the ageing couple who are confronted by a crisis after many happy years
together, right through to the young boy with no mother and
who is desperately love sick.
Valentine’s Day does exactly what you would expect of such a
mainstream film looking to cash in on a particular celebration. Marshall, though,
is a director that is able to squeeze sentiment from every small detail. He
turned a hooker into an icon in Pretty Woman, he made a Princess feel grounded
in The Princess Diaries and here he creates moments that are secondary to the
stories but remain the highlights. In particular, the moments shared by Holden
(Bradley Cooper) and Kate (Julia Roberts) as they fly to LA are touching
throughout. That some of these more interesting characters are forced to play
second fiddle to less engaging ones is a pity.
There is a stellar cast that Marshall has somehow managed to
assemble. If there is a film that boasts as beautiful a group of people as this
is it is a miracle. Jennifer Garner, still best known for her brilliant TV role in
Alias, brings her usual apple pie charm and has a natural screen glow that
makes her endlessly fun. Jamie Foxx moves away from his more serious roles in
films like Miami Vice and Ray to balance the smaltz. Genre veteran, Julia
Roberts knows how to really pulls on the heartstrings while lighting up the
screen with her brilliant smile and big-eyed insecurity that belies her character’s
analytical ways to wonderful effect.
many ways Valentine’s Day feels like a collection of self-help love books. It
tries hard to have an answer for all the relationship problems that arise where
more ambiguity would have sufficed. It might not be anything new but with a
cast this good it is like a piece of candy that tastes great but is ultimately
bad for your health.