Just Like Heaven

Above average romcom outing.

Released in 2005, certified UK-PG. Reviewed on 09 Jan 2006 by Scott Morris
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There's not much to say about near enough every romcom. If you've seen a good one and a bad one, you can pretty much interpolate the rest for yourself. However, even for the most cynical a well crafted outing can provide a decent slab of entertainment and truth be told, there's few put together better than Just Like Heaven

Elizabeth Masterson (Reese Witherspoon) is a extraordinarily busy doctor with an extraordinarily pointy chin, as all junior doctors tend to be. Busy, that is. The pointy chin is more of a Witherspoon thing. Will she ever break free of this chin based stereotyping? Blasted Hollywood execs. Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah. A doctor that's far too busy for trivialities like a love life. Her successful career is curtailed somewhat after a road traffic accident leaves her in a coma.

On the lookout for a new apartment to wallow self-pityingly in following his wife's death, David Abbott (Mark Ruffalo) takes a short lease on what he soon discovers to be Elizabeth's apartment. He knows this because she's haunting it. After the justifiable questioning of his sanity (mainly by his psychotherapist friend Jack (Donal Logue)) he enlists psychic book shop attendant Darryl (Napoleon Dynamite's Jon Heder) to help remove the spirited spirit, but the lady's not for turning. With traditional exorcisms having little effect and David's patience at Elizabeth's lifestyle critiques wearing thin, he needs to find out exactly why she's being such a restless inconvenience to get shot of her. Elizabeth's not much help, seeing as she can't remember anything of her life, or even her name.

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Ah, it's voyage of self discovery time! Can you guess what happens next, readers? Of course you can. Would you to wager on wether the outcome is happy or unhappy? Of course you would, but I doubt there's a bookie on the planet that would take that bet.

So, bar the whole haunting thing, pretty much a standard issue romcom then? Well, yeah. It's saving grace is that it's a very well acted, well put together, rather funny and reasonably touching romcom. I suppose technically that's saving graces, but what the hay.

Ruffalo makes for a likeable character in most of his roles and here's no exception. His tousled, put upon everyman act works in ways that less able actors may have been equally successful in, but his quality shows in the conclusion where despite the signposted, saccharine laden tearjerker of an ending you can still believe in his feelings and share, to an extent, in them. In lesser hands embittered cynics like your humble reporter would have mordantly chuckled at the sappiness of it all, rather than being, well, if not moved, at least shifted somewhat.

This sort of role, of course, is what Witherspoon does. I think she has a far greater range than she's often credited with, and the showing here validates that belief in places. I'm still left wishing she'd tackle roles with more bite to them, but then again if you're getting the big bucks for what's apparently come as second nature to you there's no shame in that.

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Good as the leads are, it's the supporting cast that push this film over the top.Heder gives another one of the quirky oddball performances that if he's not careful he'll wind up doing till the day he dies, but I'll refer you to the above comments on Witherspoon as to wether that's a bad thing or not. He's certainly funny, but the bulk of the best lines go to Donal Logue who knocks them out of the park. He certainly get the best, faintly sinister justification for helping to move a body seen in something so lighthearted. There's quite a few lines drifting over from the left of field, and along with a few acerbic barbs it gives a welcome broadening of humour range over what's typically received from this sort of thing. However, it's still very much a member of the 'this sort of thing' club.

It's a bit predictable, a bit trite, a bit sappy, but that's sort of the point of romantic comedies, isn't it? Dependable date fodder and chick flicks where the actual quality is almost less important than it's social function. Still, it actually being a good film is a bonus and there's been few better examples of the genre over the past few years. It's well acted, well scripted and, well, quite good really. If it's bold new examples of visionary filmmaking this isn't the place to start looking, and incidentally if you find any anyplace else please let us know, but it's never pretended to be. An enjoyable, disposable few hours entertainment, nothing more or less. Sometimes, that's all that's needed.

Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 4/5 TippyMarks.

Mark Waters
Cast list:
Reese Witherspoon (Elizabeth Masterson)
Mark Ruffalo (David Abbott)
Donal Logue (Jack Houriskey)
Jon Heder (Darryl)