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Just Like Heaven (2005)
surprise surprise, a good romantic comedy from Hollywood
Funny, last week I said I saw a love story about a man in love with a ghost in Meirelles's "The Constant Gardener," which was a figurative observance, and this week I'm seeing a movie about a man in love with a ghost, only literally this time.
In the romantic comedy "Just Like Heaven," ever-affable good-natured Mark Ruffalo moves into a "haunted" apartment in San Francisco. Its view and privately accessible rooftop make the place a mouth-watering find, though one does pause to wonder how he can see all of San Francisco from a third-story walk-up. Its only apparent drawback is a control freak spirit who keeps insisting he is invading her home and must move out immediately.
To back up a bit, we learn at the beginning of the film that the control freak, played by Reese Witherspoon, is a doctor at a local hospital whose professional life leaves no time for fun or leisure. Tragically, after being made an attending physician, she was hit head-on by a semi truck. Ain't that just the breaks? But even as we watch Ruffalo's well-intentioned David attempt to send Dr. Elizabeth toward the white light, the two play off each other in such comical and touching ways, it becomes clear they are developing a crush on each other. Eventually, David and Elizabeth realize that she may in fact still be alive, and embark on a citywide adventure to find out exactly what happened to her.
Through a series of scenes that are cleverly written and involve several comic mishaps, David and Elizabeth get to know each other more intimately as they find out more and more about each others' past lives. It becomes clear throughout that the two will fall in love, if only they could solve that pesky problem of Elizabeth not being tangible.
"Just Like Heaven" is a good romantic comedy, as modern day movies go. It seems almost too much to ask for Hollywood romantic comedies to include interesting characters the audience themselves can actually picture liking. In Elizabeth, we have a heroin that is both imperfect and high-strung, but also smart, articulate, and charming, a fair departure from the hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold phenomenon a la "Pretty Woman." Witherspoon's airy blonde ditz is all but left in the dust here, but none of that irrepressible energy is gone, solidifying my opinion that she just needs the right roles to be the actress she can be.
Ruffalo, who has always taken interesting roles, makes a turn here for the more mainstream and with good results. He is affecting and sweet, and seems perfectly suited for Elizabeth, as they are both kind-hearted and quirky. His acting is also a good complement to Witherspoon's; they're both very talented and convey a sincerity that is rare in many Hollywood actors.
This film also marks a venture for Director Mark Waters from his foray into teen-world, having recently directed "Freaky Friday" and "Mean Girls." His earlier work, including the small treasure "The House of Yes" found more success on rental shelves than in theatres. But this turn has proved box office gold, as expected, no doubt, by its Hollywood producers.
And though the movie does prove a little too sweet, edging on corny at times, it works. Its predictability is trumped by how involved we are with the love story, and how much we care about the lovers. Waters does well in developing the characters, and leaving the plot to sort of work itself out, concerning himself more with their stories and how much they grow to care about each other. He lets these two cute characters fall in cute love, and that's enough to ask for.