Unless you’re unaware of the film altogether, you’ve heard someone say that about Valentine’s Day. Once enough people say something, there’s probably something to it, and in this case the comparison isn’t worth trying to escape. It’s about love, it follows a random sampling of (sometimes very) loosely connected characters, and it’s fairly goofy at best. Referencing Love Actually can do a lot of work.
Noted also as overloaded with stars, the film has too many characters and plots to cover, and even making an attempt would be a dizzying misrepresentation of the film’s construction. To briefly describe them would lead you to believe there was more to them in the movie, a largely untrue assumption.
Our main focus is on Reed Bennett (Ashton Kutcher), his girlfriend Morley (Jessica Alba), and his best friend Julia (Jennifer Garner). Our tangents spin off via some connection to Reed and Julia (Morley not so much). We open on the morning of Valentine’s Day, and Reed has decided to propose to Morley. She accepts, and now the apparently always cheery and sappy Reed has two reasons that he doesn’t have to make any excuses for his demeanor.
Adding a brilliantly romantic angle, let’s say, Reed is also a florist. It’s just his day every which way, and our story begins.
On the other side of our coin, Julia (yes, the old opposite gender best friend trick) is very gooey in love with her boyfriend Dr. Harrison Copeland (Patrick Dempsey). He has to go out of town for the day, which opens the door for Julia to attend an anti-Valentine’s Day party her friend Kara (Jessica Biel) has hosted for several years now. Of course, hers would be a sham attendance at this point, but it’s something to do, and a tradition.
The mere fact that Patrick Dempsey plays Julia’s boyfriend is a spoiler, and you know where our main story is headed.
As I said, there is simply no point going into all the characters we’ll meet. The thing plays out in very similar fashion to Love Actually, especially in that some connections become apparent, while some leave us wondering even beyond the end. We’re watching some people from the beginning, because they happen to turn up at a certain spot at the end. They all have their varied spins on love, are at varying points in the game, and are all sort of figuring it out as they go… no matter how long they’ve been figuring it out already.
From first crush, to broken heart, to married an astounding number of years, it’s every love angle that can possibly be squished into a (longish) feature-length runtime.
Descriptions of Ashton Kutcher’s goofy likability, Jennifer Garner’s pouty face, and Anne Hathaway‘s recurring phone sex, are in some cases unnecessary, in others unhelpful, but they all serve to remind me that no description has much purpose here.
Love Actually provides too much footing, and since critics are going to hate this film while being generally much more positive toward that one (despite everyone comparing the two), the descriptions and synopses are meaningless, and they were meaningless in Love Actually‘s case already.
You want to know if you’re going to like (or even watch) it, and you probably knew where you were from the very first line of this review. There is a major difference between the films, and it all comes down to speed. A major flaw to many, a possible entrance to some, everything about the movie is a quicker effort. The characters aren’t fleshed out well, or given much depth at all, and there clearly isn’t time to give a lot of them a fair shake in that department. Some of them are even purposely caricature.
The plots are corny, sappy rehashings, and spelled out in the least complicated ways. On the plus side, they’re from the collection of world’s coolest greeting card company. “So, you’re new girlfriend is a phone sex ‘entertainer’ huh?” “Caught your teen daughter’s boyfriend waiting for her in her bedroom… naked?”
Faulting a film for hollow characters and simplistic plots is the first chapter in Movie Criticism 101, but in this case something has gone wrong. They are Valentine’s Day‘s plan, and focusing on them in the wrong way is not to point out how the film failed, but to discount the theory, and that’s a mistake. Well, unless you admit that’s what you’re doing, but, “I deny your hypothetical,” isn’t a movie review.
Swimming briskly through the storm of marketing ploy and “love for sale” gimmick that is Valentine’s Day, the film doesn’t have time to stop and stare at the treacly bits (or have treacly bits), and doesn’t want to in any case. That’s Love Actually‘s game, and Valentine’s Day doesn’t like that game. That’s the crap inside the card. Less serious by way of seriousness.
The game here is more fun, easier to digest, and a bit more real by being a bit more nonsense.
It’s a bit of trick Valentine’s Day. It takes place on Valentine’s Day. It’s plots are focused on Valentine’s Day. It goes to great lengths to glorify the institution. It even has the title. But, it’s about the other ones.
The most interesting bonus content on the Blu-Ray release is the commentary track by Garry Marshall. It isn’t necessarily among the best tracks by a director, but getting the chance to watch along with a legend is a treat. Don’t give up on it too soon, because the first twenty minutes or so lean heavily on noting the stars as they appear, and don’t really give you a lot of value. It picks up quite a bit after that, and it is well worth the time. Frankly, even if you don’t like the film.
You also get 14 deleted scenes, and some of them are pretty good stuff that you’ll wish made it to the final cut. There is a short introduction to the deleted scenes by Garry Marshall as well.
A gag reel and music video (Jewel “Stay Here Forever”) are standard fare, though a gag reel from a Marshall film is likely to have few quirks you don’t see everyday. The whole thing is worth it for Kutcher’s seatbelt fiasco alone.
The two “real” special features are The Garry Factor and The Stars Confess Their Valentine’s Day Stories. The Garry Factor takes a look at several aspects of the filmmaking process that make a Garry Marshall film unique, and it’s a fun take on a “behind-the-scenes” featurette. From his famous lack of clarity, to the overall feel of the production, filming his movies is (apparently) a unique experience, and it’s interesting to get a lot of looks and reactions.
The other big featurette is a compilation of the film’s many stars talking about love, life, and Valentine’s Day. It might be the one that stands out most in their mind, whether it was the fourth grade or last year, or a little snippet about what the holiday means generally.
Finally, you get an exclusive Sex and the City 2 sneak peek trailer, and SD version and digital copy of the film.
Overall this is pretty solid purchase. A nice selection of bonuses, looks great on Blu-Ray, and it’s going to be watched again and again by those who like it at all.
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