Sunday, February 14, 2010


At long last our most calculated and crassly commercial holiday has a feature-length film that is equally calculated and crassly commercial. I exaggerate, but only slightly. It's a movie that continually tries to convince us that the holiday is very, very important and every character who tries to think otherwise is in for a rude awakening. Valentine’s Day belongs to the category of hyperlink films with large casts and interwoven storylines that usually result in an ostensibly serious drama like Crash, Syriana, or Babel, but in this case takes its cues from the lighter side. This particular incarnation of this subgenre of a subgenre (the hyperlink rom-com) can be traced back to Love Actually, the 2003 film about Londoners falling in and out of love in the weeks leading up to Christmas. It’s a delightfully overstuffed movie with great actors having a great deal of fun in a supersized rom-com that gleefully runs through cliché after cliché, knowingly moving through the tropes but making it work anyways. Last year brought an Americanized type with He’s Just Not That Into You. It had some fine actors, but it was ultimately too broadly focused and thinly written.

Valentine’s Day is slightly less than the aforementioned films, containing 22 performers in a movie that often plays like it ate its mid-February rom-com competition. Just setting up all the characters feels like it takes nearly half the movie. But, then again, this is not really a movie about character; it’s a movie about stars. Sure enough, the cast of pretty faces and big names has plenty of talent and charm to go around. The cast list contains about ten actors I really like, a few more that don’t bother me, and a few I don’t have feelings for one way or another. Individually, each person is not responsible for carrying much of the movie at all. They were cast because every one of them has a great smile.

The movie cuts out the rom-com filler and gives us only the highest and lowest parts of each plotline. We get the meet cute, the tragic misunderstanding, and the sweet reunion (or bittersweet parting) without having to go through all that pesky stuff like character development. And if the brief time we do have with each character is still too much to handle, don’t worry. Garry Marshall will cut to an insert shot of toddlers kissing or senior citizens kissing or animals kissing. The audience around me “awwwwwwed” right on cue.

The cast make little more than brief impressions. I liked Julia Roberts the best, despite her five-or-so minutes of screen time, especially the way her story concludes. Eric Dane also gets a nice little twist ending. Bradley Cooper is charming. Ashton Kutcher doesn’t get annoying. Topher Grace is sweet and endearing. Anne Hathaway is forced to deliver some embarrassingly bad dialogue but makes up for it by being Anne Hathaway. Queen Latifah and Kathy Bates show up, so you know the movie’s not all bad. Ashton Kutcher doesn’t get annoying. George Lopez is used sparingly but well. Emma Roberts gets a one-joke subplot that could have easily been cut. Jessica Alba and Patrick Dempsey barely appear and are given thankless plot-device roles in punishment. Taylor Swift proves herself to be a kind of charming actress so, you know, she has something to do if that whole singing thing doesn’t work out for her. Shirley MacLaine might have had some work done. Jessica Biel and Jamie Foxx have nothing parts, and painfully clichéd ones at that, but at least they committed to them. Hector Elizondo brings his quiet, confident sense of humor that’s always welcome. And Jennifer Garner, bless her heart, still doesn’t quite fit in a romantic comedy setting.

I can’t say I disliked the movie. I chuckled a couple times and smiled a few more, but this is just an all-star pileup on a confectionary highway. It’s like cotton candy; it’s mildly enjoyable to taste as it goes down without complication, but it disappears almost instantly once consumed. For dumb fluff, you could do much worse, but I’ll have a hard time remembering the specifics of the movie tomorrow let alone next February 14.

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