Katherine Fugate, Abby Kohn, Marc Silverstein
Jessica Alba, Kathy Bates, Jessica Biel, Bradley Cooper, Eric Dane, Patrick Dempsey, Hector Elizondo, Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, Topher Grace, Anne Hathaway, Carter Jenkins, Ashton Kutcher, Queen Latifah, Taylor Lautner, George Lopez, Shirley MacLaine, Emma Roberts, Julia Roberts, Bryce Robinson, Taylor Swift, Matthew Walker
PG-13 for some sexual material and brief partial nudity.
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A long way are we from those Happy Days of Laverne & Shirley and The Odd Couple, but the famed television director Garry Marshall is no stranger to big screen features, bringing his latest film to cinemas for Valentine’s Day.
Marshall has worked with some terrific actors in the past including Barbara Hershey and Bette Midler in Beaches, Julia Roberts and Richard Gere in Pretty Woman, Anne Hathaway and Julie Andrews in The Princess Diaries and many others. But never before has he really tackled a huge ensemble drama jumping back and forth across multiple stories all seemingly connected.
The key story in Valentine’s Day (the day the film takes place on) revolves around Reed Bennett (Ashton Kutcher), a flower store owner who wakes up on his biggest day of the floral year to an accepted proposal to his longtime girlfriend Morley (Jessica Alba). Flitting through the day like only a man in love can, Reed communicates with his business partner and friend Julia Fitzpatrick (Jennifer Garner) and his driver and friend Alphonso (George Lopez) as well as anyone else who will listen to his joyous news. Julia cautions him not to get too excited, but not without good reason.
Intersecting the main plot at varied and circumstantial points, are several other stories that make up the length of the film. There’s a football star who has been dumped by his team (Eric Dane), his agent (Jessica Biel), her manager (Queen Latifah), their new receptionist and phone sex operator (Anne Hathaway), the mail room clerk who pines after her (Topher Grace), a soldier returning home (Julia Roberts), the man on whose shoulder she sleeps (Bradley Cooper), a philandering doctor (Patrick Dempsey), young Eidson missing his mother (Bryce Robinson), his grandparents (Hector Elizondo and Shirley MacLaine), his sister (Emma Roberts), her boyfriend (Carter Jenkins), his friend Willy (Taylor Lautner), Willy’s girlfriend Felicia (Taylor Swift), the TV reporter trying to find a Valentine’s Day scoop (Jamie Foxx) and his station manager (Kathy Bates). And that’s plenty to keep track of.
It’s no surprise then that it takes three screenwriters to craft the film: Katherine Fugate, Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein do a suitable job keeping the stories together, but it’s Garry Marshall’s keen ensemble eye that keeps things from running completely out of control. The reason the story works so well is that it’s a very, broad, but nearly all-encompassing view of love and romance for all men and women both straight and gay.
I applaud Marshall for being so inclusive in his film, but not all of those relationships work in the framework of the film. While we have the plot between Edison’s grandparents displaying the quantity and quality of love between those of an older generation, some of that segment’s narrative elements are a bit forced. The single gay relationship in the film is poorly supported. I won’t reveal the actors or actresses involved in this story as it provides one of the film’s “shock” moments, but suffice it to say their emotional connection is thinly drawn and insufficiently acted. The segments of the film involving Willy and Felicia are thoroughly unnecessary even if they do represent a semi-accurate portrayal of young love.
The performances in the film are what you would expect in a feature with so many actors. Some are given free reign over their characters while others are given too much attention. There are few standouts in the film, but the one that stands out foremost in my mind is Anne Hathaway. I haven’t seen nearly enough of her films, but after this, I’m convinced that there is serious potential in her. She doesn’t play Liz with excessive sentimentality, preferring to show her warts and all. Her comic timing is displayed perfectly in her scenes with Queen Latifah who seems to perform better when Hathaway is in the frame. Her various sexy accents are a bit extreme, but so is her job. She is the single funniest thing about the film and while this is an ensemble piece, she makes the film so much more enjoyable while on screen that you can forgive some of the less impressive work elsewhere in the movie.
The most disappointing performance belongs to MacLaine. She is such a talented actress, but she seems to be phoning in this performance, letting Elizondo, a good but not great actor, act circles around her. Even little Bryce Robinson shows her up on a couple of occasions and that’s fairly disappointing. And although it is a disappointing performance, hers is not the film’s worst. Eric Dane, Taylor Lautner and Jamie Foxx all give that title a run for its money. They display no emotion, don’t effectively connect with their romantic companions and they tend to grate one your nerves after a little while. But, considering I’ve never considered Lautner a good actor and Eric Dane doesn’t have an Oscar, Foxx ends up with the dubious distinction of worst performance in Valentine’s Day.
Yet, despite the weakest elements in the film, the overall picture is a positive one. Enjoyable, at moments endearing and often quite entertaining, Valentine’s Day does a great deed in showing the audience how powerful love can be and that it isn’t always where we expect to find it.
May 4, 2010