Directed by Garry Marshall
Released February 12, 2010
Even before this film came out, most people boiled it down to one concise sentence: the American version of “Love Actually.” It’s an accurate description if taken in the same way that many often condescendingly refer to American remakes and their tendency to suck the life and humor out of the British originals. This new film sets itself around a holiday centered primarily on love and partnership, whereas Richard Curtis’ 2003 film takes place at Christmas, a holiday with religious and secular functionality in addition to its obvious coupling potential. That’s hardly the only thing this disappointing movie lacks.
The smattering of popular actors is a trait shared by both films, but the important difference is that the stars of “Love Actually” are actually actors. “Valentine’s Day” has a few notable and proven talented actors, such as old guard Kathy Bates, Julia Roberts, Hector Elizondo, and Shirley Maclaine, and more newly minted thespians such as Anne Hathaway, Jamie Foxx, and Jennifer Garner. The fact that they’ve had film roles before doesn’t mean they’re necessarily acting here, however, but it’s certainly much better than the distinct non-actors present, most notably Taylor Swift. Her cringe-inducing performance as a self-involved cheerleader sticks out like a sore thumb, though the other portrayals aren’t much better. Perhaps it’s insulting to group the likes of Jessica Alba and Ashton Kutcher in with her, but this film certainly isn’t overly concerned about the acting its cast is doing, or rather not doing.
What the film is focused on is just as problematic. Despite incorporating a web of characters, the definable protagonist is probably excitable florist Reed Bennett, played by Kutcher. While he did a decent job anchoring 2004’s dark thriller “The Butterfly Effect,” it appears it was a one-hit wonder. Kutcher, adorned in his pink florist uniform throughout the film, doesn’t do much in the way of humor and tries to act his serious best. He’s incapable of it, however, and the movie starts to fall apart before any of the other characters are introduced. Relying on Kutcher to keep the film together is a miserable idea, and just one indication of why it fails.
Not all is completely awful in this film, but the bad certainly outweighs the good. Some of the arcs and performances are more tolerable than others. One such example finds Roberts and Bradley Cooper flirting aboard a flight as they both endure a long trip to make it home to their loved ones. In a film that offers few delights, the best surprise is Jessica Biel, who delivers what may well be the most enjoyable performance of her career as one of the more bearable characters in the film, a publicist who throws an annual I Hate Valentine’s Day dinner with her friends.
Ultimately, the dialogue is hopelessly poor and the stories fail in their attempts to be whimsical and sweet. The token older generation story featuring Elizondo and Maclaine is one such instance where it should be infinitely more moving than it is. What saves “Valentine’s Day” from being just as insufferable as many find the holiday is the aspect of putting all the characters together and figuring out how they’re all connected. Surveyed at the film’s end, it’s actually the most impressive part of the project, mixing and matching the characters until all their links and threads make sense. It’s a shame that less time was spent creating a compelling film.
Sunday, February 21, 2010