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Just Like Heaven
Reviewed by Martin Thomas, © 2005

Format: Movie
By:   Mark Waters (director)
Genre:   Supernatural Romantic Comedy
Released:   September 16, 2005
Review Date:   September 19, 2005
Audience Rating:   Rated PG-13
RevSF Rating:   8/10 (What Is This?)

I guess I’m just not like most people. Too much of a pragmatist, like my mother. After sitting through movies like The Ring, The Grudge, Skeleton Key, and most recently The Exorcism of Emily Rose, I realize I am just not down with the supernatural. Where everyone else is creeped out or scared I’m just . . . bored.

Oh, and don’t get me started on the batting average of romantic comedies . . . which usually turn out to not have much of either conceit. Especially when the word “Wedding” is in the title.

So, you can imagine how I felt when I found out I’d have to not only see but review the movie Just Like Heaven — a supernatural romantic comedy. *grumble *

Although, after seeing the trailer for the movie I was almost giddy because I knew it’d be the quickest review I’d ever write. Check this out:

“I think I liked Just Like Heaven better the first time I saw it . . . when it was called GHOST!

There! All done.

Pop the cork and call it a day. Now I could go back to reading Punisher comics and looking for Trailer Park Boys DVDs on eBay.

Uh, at least that’s what I would’ve done except for the two major flaws with that plan:

1. I actually have never . . . um, seen more than 20 minutes of Ghost.

2. When I saw Just Like Heaven, it didn’t remind me of Ghost in the slightest.

THE PLOT (from the official Web site):

When David (Mark Ruffalo) sublet his quaint San Francisco apartment, the last thing he expected — or wanted — was a roommate. He had only begun to make a complete mess of the place when a pretty young woman named Elizabeth (Reese Witherspoon) suddenly shows up, adamantly insisting the apartment is hers. David assumes there's been a giant misunderstanding . . . until Elizabeth disappears as mysteriously as she appeared. Changing the locks does nothing to deter Elizabeth, who begins to appear and disappear at will — mostly to rebuke David for his personal living habits in her apartment.

Convinced that she is a ghost, David tries to help Elizabeth cross over to the "other side." But while Elizabeth has discovered she does have a distinctly ethereal quality — she can walk through walls — she is equally convinced that she is somehow still alive and isn't crossing over anywhere. As Elizabeth and David search for the truth about who Elizabeth is and how she came to be in her present state, their relationship deepens into love. Unfortunately, they have very little time before their prospects for a future together permanently fade away.

Truth is, Just Like Heaven reminded me that there are some movies that combine romance and the supernatural that I do like. It’s so much more like the Steve Martin comedy All Of Me than it ever is like Ghost. And by the end it’s reminiscent of Heaven Can Wait (both versions), The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, and most especially the Christopher Reeve classic Somewhere In Time.

It’s a movie that I admire for the things it did right (the script, the pacing, the casting; who knew Mark Ruffalo could do comedy?!!), but even more so for the things it didn’t do wrong. In the first scene we’re introduced to Reese Witherspoon’s character, Elizabeth as an earnest, workaholic doctor. With less than ten minutes until she’s ‘taken out,’ her character is established as being likeable without seeming sappy or two-dimensional. The hospital scenes have a casual authenticity to them, like any episode of E.R..

The movie is also good about passing on almost all of the more lowbrow and obvious gags. Most notably, it only sparingly uses Napoleon Dynamite’s Jon Heder as a spiritual medium. He’s still something of a detached goofball here, but it’s just enough to have the most comic effect and never annoying. On the flipside, just as I groused about a great comic/character actor like Donal Logue being squandered on only a bit part, his character returns in the third act to deliver the best jokes of the entire film.

In all honesty, the first act of Just Like Heaven doesn’t seem like anything special. The jokes are funny but not hilarious. It pretty much follows all the conventions of this type of movie, but by the second act everything that seemed so inconsequential starts to come together. It cleverly uses its ostensible predictability to throw in some very well thought out unpredictable twists. This should’ve been no big shock as it was directed by Mark Waters, who so recently made enjoyable surprises out of such unlikely movies as Mean Girls and Freaky Friday.

I don’t know that Just Like Heaven is enough to quell the cynic in me from kneejerk-stamping of such movies as “chick flicks,” but it’s definitely a “date movie” and a solid one at that. Who knows? Maybe it will be enough for me to look at the upcoming Ryan Reynolds flick, Waiting, with an open mind.

What?

You DO know I was kidding, right? Come on, have you seen the trailer for Waiting? Please!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must get back to some light reading. Frank Castle has the Irish mob pinned down and his M-16 just ran out of ammo.

RevSF contributor Martin Thomas is a hot hunk of man meat. But he’s also in touch with his feelings. Sorry girls, he’s taken. By aliens. Often. How often? Only the probe knows.

 
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