The kind of fluffy romantic comedy that Reese Witherspoon can usually open in her sleep, Just Like Heaven is a pleasantly above average movie directed by Mark Waters (Mean Girls). An adaptation based on Marc Levy’s novel “If Only It Were True”, it relies on the supernatural premise of two people being separated by death before they even meet.He is emotionally dead, she is physically dead. Given the heavy themes of this movie, it is remarkably funny, moving and almost…shall I say thought-provoking?!
Ms. Witherspoon plays Elizabeth Masterson, a workaholic ER doctor in San Francisco with no time for a personal life. The night her sister sets her up on a date, she gets into a tragic car accident. Weeks later, her stunningly beautiful apartment is sub-let by her family to David Abbott (Mark Ruffalo), a heartsick fellow who is still mourning his wife’s sudden death after two years. Unaware of her non-corporeal state of being and what happened to her, Elizabeth’s spirit stumbles upon David and accuses him of breaking into and squatting in her apartment. After several somewhat brief but contentious encounters, David agrees to help her find her identity and find out why he is the only one who can see her…
Just Like Heaven is somewhat uneven as it starts with a somewhat generic rom-com beginning but it soon starts gathering solid momentum into the seriously hilarious climax. Unfortunately, the ending is a bit overwrought and quite corny but that’s to be expected with the genre. It would have been very intriguing had the movie broke from convention and ended on a sad and bittersweet tone instead. Most of the charm of Just Like Heaven comes from seeing Elizabeth revive the brooding and emotionally empty David. Waters has a good eye for comedy and extracts some laughs by showing David talking and reacting to someone no one else can see and he is crafty enough not to overuse that device. It is pleasing to see that the romantic undertone of the plot are underplayed and that this flick is more “com” than “rom”.
Like every romantic comedies, the movie relies on its leads to make it stand out from the pack. The versatile Reese Witherspoon is at ease in her territory, effortlessly giving depth to an underwritten but likable control freak spirit. There is an innate intelligence about all her characters –she went to Stanford University after all– that makes her playing a doctor easily believable. Mark Ruffalo is excellent in another romantic lead role, performing brilliantly in terms of both physical comedy and comedic timing. There is a workmanlike and unassuming quality about his acting that make it very easy to sympathize with his characters. In supporting roles, Donal Logue is a highlight as David’s sidesplitting best friend while Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite) and Dina Waters are solid as a psychic and Elizabeth’s sister respectively.
Finely directed and acted, Just Like Heaven is a light and dreamy romantic comedy that is surprisingly enjoyable and funny thanks to terrific chemistry between the two charming leads.
Lesson of the Day: It’s possible to make a rom-com that’s not really a rom-com.
Notes: Rated PG-13 for some sexual content, 95 minutes, a DreamWorks SKG release.