As the stresses of classes begin to bear down, many students look to the movies to offer some form of escape. Often, the problems plaguing the average college student do not seem so compared to the lives of some onscreen characters.
The romantic comedy genre is perfect for this sort of escape. An average, harmless-looking supernatural romantic comedy, appropriately titled “Just Like Heaven,” came out on the big screen on Sept. 16.
The film, directed by Mark Waters (“Freaky Friday”), tells a story of a young and ambitious doctor, Elizabeth Masterson, played by ‘American Sweetheart’ Reese Witherspoon (“Legally Blonde”), who spends her best years working long shifts in a San Francisco hospital without any social life to call her own. When things finally start to look up for her both personally and professionally, Elizabeth gets into a horrendous car accident that leaves her only a few steps short of the pearly gates.
On the other side of town lives David Abbot, played by the rough-yet-gentile Mark Ruffalo (“13 Going on 30”) who, by a leap of fate, sublets Elizabeth’s former apartment and spends his days chugging cans upon cans of beer and mourning his dead wife.
The fact that David, apparently a very gifted landscape architect, manages to afford a gorgeous apartment with a view to die for, or as David’s saucy realtor says: “to kill one’s grandma for,” without going to work and earning a paycheck may raise a few eyebrows, but don’t forget√¢?” it is a supernatural comedy.
Finally, as was anticipated, Elizabeth, now a very lively and talkative ghost, pops into her old residence and surprises the new tenant- the tipsy and scruffy-looking David, and demands her place back, thinking she’s alive. As it turns out, Elizabeth does not remember who she is and what happened to her, but this ghostly blonde is definitely no Casper. She wants the unwelcome tenant out, but so does David.
Being on the brink of insanity, David seeks the help of professionals in the field, including a fanatic priest, a band of Chinese exorcists, and even certified Ghost Busters. Yet the ghoulish Elizabeth sticks around.
Eventually David grows accustomed to Elizabeth’s spooky and often hilarious appearances, which usually take place when he is in the shower, and he decides to help her remember who she is and what has happened to her. As they put the puzzle of her memory back together piece by piece, Elizabeth discovers just how much fun she missed in her career-driven life, and slowly but inevitably they fall in love, despite Elizabeth’s more-than questionable physical existence. The eternal moral, “love conquers all,” manages to rear its ugly head in yet another Hollywood flick.
The duo of Ruffalo and Witherspoon, however, has a truly great on-screen presence and chemistry throughout the movie. Being individually charming and interesting performers, the tandem makes it easy for the viewers to ignore some of the film’s shortcomings, which include the utter oblivion of the laws of physics and the recurring appearances of the annoying fellow from a mystic book store that David visits, played by Jon Herr (“Napoleon Dynamite”). You will spend most of the movie musing over the question: Is this guy really spiritual or really stoned? Both, perhaps?
The first half of the film is seemingly more compelling and entertaining. It provides a few sincere belly laughs and raising some difficult, real-life issues, like the post-Terri Schiavo controversy dealing with the right to life vs. euthanasia that rocked the nation several months ago. In fact, this movie might have worked better as a melodrama, a genre which allows the film makers to deal with such heavy-handed issues in more profound and thought-provoking ways.
The second half of the film unfortunately back tracks and drives the plot on the safe and predictable beaten path toward a sugar-coated, syrupy-sweet, and uber-sentimental ending that would make the most ardent fans of romance novels by the likes of Nora Roberts take out their pink lacy sickness bags. Guys beware- chick flick ahead.