Hollywood’s golden girl of the moment is Reese Witherspoon; and rightfully so. This talented young actress has long been underrated as an actress. She expressed maturity beyond her years in her 1996 film “Fear.” She was precociously bright in the 1998 “Pleasantville.” And she stole everyone’s heart in “Legally Blond.” Finally, in an amazing performance as June Carter Cash in “Walk the Line,” Reese finally won her much deserved acclaim.
Part of Reese’s charm is her realistic portrayal of everyday women caught in unusual situations. Such is her role in the movie “Just Like Heaven.” In this film, Reese portrays an overworked intern named Elizabeth Masterson. One thing and one thing alone drive hers and that is her compassion for her patients. She spends every waking minute at the hospital, much to the chagrin of her sister Abby, a happily married mother who firmly believes that Liz deserves the same. She finally manages to get her sister to agree to a blind date with someone Abby is certain is perfect for her sister. However, as luck would have it, on her way to her sister’s house to meet this mystery man, Elizabeth has a car accident. This sets the stage for one of the most unusual love stories of all time.
David Abbott, played by Mark Ruffalo, is a depressed individual who is still trying to deal with the death of his wife two years prior. Although he apparently doesn’t have a job, he is searching for a new apartment in San Francisco and finally finds exactly what he is looking for. The problem is, the apartment in question also apparently belongs to beautiful young blond woman. At first the couple assume that a mistake has been made and that someone has sold them both the same apartment. However, all of that changes when, as David is talking to his unwelcome roommate, she simply disappears. Confused and confounded, David does some research and finds out that the apartment used to belong to Dr. Elizabeth Masterson, a young intern recently lost in a car accident. Elizabeth doesn’t believe his claim when he tells her what he found out. Much like the audience, Elizabeth is unaware of her ultimate fate. She just knows that she doesn’t “feel” dead and that she doesn’t plan to cross over to anywhere. At first, David wants nothing at all to do with this control freak of a spirit who won’t accept her death. He even tries to have her exercised from the apartment. But when that doesn’t work, he eventually decides to help Elizabeth find out what happened to her in an attempt to put things right. As you might expect, it doesn’t take very long for the chemistry to start brewing between these two characters, leaving both feeling betrayed that they should now find love, when it is obvious that they cannot be together. Or can they?
The idea behind this film isn’t new. There have been several versions of such “ghostly” love stories over the years, most notably the movie called “Ghost” with Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze. There is, however, a unique twist in this film, which unfortunately I cannot give away without spoiling the entire movie. However, it is just about the only original aspect of this somewhat tired screenplay by Peter Tolan and Leslie Dixon. It is heavy with script contrivances, some of which appear to be a part of the film in a last-ditch effort to drag the story out for as long as possible. They actually detracted from the film rather than adding last minute suspense as was intended.
Witherspoon is her usual charming, adorable, lovely self in this movie. There is really nothing new about this character that she hasn’t already played a million times before. Therefore, she does it effortlessly which may make some think that she isn’t acting at all.
Likewise, Ruffalo finds no real meat in the role of David. He seems to currently be the go-to-guy for romantic comedies because he handles such roles with such ease. However, much like Witherspoon, when there is nothing unusual to play, Ruffalo comes off a little too much like himself and less like the character he is supposed to be playing. It’s a trick of the mind that happens when an actor has a role down pat.
I question the on-screen chemistry of these two. I felt it at times but at others there seemed to be no spark at all. I suspect that has more to do with the lack of depth in the screenplay and the characters they were playing than with the actors themselves.
John Heder, as Darryl, the bookshop clerk and semi-physic who advises David on what to do about Elizabeth, almost manages to steal the movie right out from under the two star’s noses. He was a solid, shining beacon of comic release for this otherwise sometimes dour film.
Dina Spybey as Elizabeth’s sister Abby, is all but wasted in this film. She serves one single purpose, which I can’t even tell you without spoiling the movie.
Director Mark Waters tries a little too hard to make this movie endearing and his comedic attempts fall pretty flat. One has to wonder if his two highly talented actors might have blossomed under the hands of a more skillful director. I really think there was a much better story to be told here if the writers and directors had given the actors more with which to work.
Despite all the negatives I just spelled out about this movie, I liked it. It does have some rich, sweet, and very funny moment. It manages to pull off just enough charm and appeal to make it worth seeing any maybe even owning. (Anyway, I own it.) It is, however, very much of a “chick flick” so if you aren’t in to that type of movie, this one just might not be for you. Myself, I still give it three and one-half out of five stars just because I love the two main actors.