Dir: Mark Waters. US.2005. 95mins.
Despite another winningstar turn from Reese Witherspoon in the lead role, Just Like Heaven feelslike a convoluted blend of other movies from Ghost to While You WereSleeping to Sleepless In Seattle to What Dreams May Come.
Set to be released byDreamWorks in North America on Sept 16 to fill the Sweet Home Alabamaautumn romantic comedy slot, the film has a pleasingly gentle pace andWitherspoon and male lead Mark Ruffalo develop an appealing chemistry. But thehokey plot, pseudo-spiritual metaphysical elements and twee San Franciscolocations set it squarely within major studio rom-com conventions.
Its domestic box officeperformance should be strong, especially with female audiences, if not along SweetHome Alabama lines. There are no other romantic movies in the marketplacein September, and the film has three weeks before must-see woman's picture InHer Shoes and four before North Country.
Nor should the box officepower of Witherspoon be under-estimated. The 29 year-old, who gives a finedramatic turn in Fox's Walk The Line, which has just premiered at Toronto, hasblossomed into a vivacious, old-style comedy star combining the wit and sparkleof Claudette Colbert with the beauty of Carole Lombard. Her popularity willfuel the success of the movie and be fuelled by it; not surprisingly DreamWorksis basing its uninspired one-sheet campaign on her face.
The film's overseasperformance will be less than its domestic. Witherspoon's films have nevercaught on in international markets, with both Legally Blonde films and SweetHome Alabama each failing to top $50m. And unlike Ghost, JustLike Heaven has none of the hallmarks of a zeitgeist movie which will catchfire throughout the world.
It was a smart idea to teamWitherspoon with director Mark Waters, whose lightness of touch made gigantichits out of Freaky Friday and Mean Girls, although this movie ismore conventional and less energetic than either of those.
Witherspoon plays a stockHollywood character - a workaholic trainee doctor called Elizabeth who is toowrapped up in her career to think about going on dates or having fun withfriends. Late for a dinner one night at her sister's house - where she is beingset up on a blind date - she crashes her car into a truck.
The film then cuts to agrieving widower David (Ruffalo) who moves into a beautiful apartment in SanFrancisco where he sets to getting drunk. But within hours he has been accostedby the ghost of Elizabeth, whose apartment he is renting. Initially convincedshe is still alive and he is trespassing, Elizabeth soon realises that she isindeed some kind of ghost and can walk through walls.
She doesn't, however, knowwho she is and the two of them follow various clues to find out her identity,while falling in love. They eventually discover that the corporeal Elizabeth isin a coma in hospital and might soon have her life support machine switched offby her family.
It's a race against time toensure that Elizabeth's body is kept alive so that her spirit can rejoin it.And when she does rejoin it, will she remember who David is'
Along the way, there arecomic moments generated from the fact that David is the only living soul whocan see Elizabeth's ghost, and supporting characters like an eccentricsupernatural bookstore clerk (Napoleon Dynamite's Jon Heder) and a lustyfemale neigbour (Milicevic) who, to Elizabeth's consternation, wants to seduceDavid.
Ruffalo is a solid foil forWitherspoon, just as he was for Jennifer Garner in 13 Going On 30, whileHeder confirms himself as a natural scene-stealer; the large cast is filledwith stalwarts like Donal Logue, Ben Shenkman, Dina Waters, Willie Garson andCaroline Aaron.
Walter F Parkes
Based on the novel If Only It Were True by Marc Levy