Garry Marshall’s attempt at making a Los Angeles-based version of Love, Actually really isn’t all that bad. Now it’s a given that your enjoyment of the movie is going to be down to whether or not you enjoy the idea of romance and love in all its cheesy glory, but as a film it’s still not as reprehensible as some sour-faced grumps disguising themselves as movie critics might have you believe.
The selling feature to this Marshall movie is the enormous ensemble cast. Written by Katherine Fugate, Valentine’s Day uses a screenplay that actually believes in love for a change and this is somewhat refreshing. The value is love, you see, whereas the value in other movies of this ilk is companionship for the sake of it. Sure, a lot of the relationships we witness give off the wrong idea but such is love: a lot of the fun of it is in doing it wrong.
Valentine’s Day stars Julia Roberts, Bradley Cooper, Ashton Kutcher, Jessica Alba, Anne Hathaway, Queen Latifah, Jennifer Garner, George Lopez, Jaime Foxx, Kathy Bates, Jessica Biel, Shirley MacLaine, Emma Roberts, Taylor Swift, Taylor Lautner, Hector Elizondo, Patrick Dempsey, Bryce Robinson, Topher Grace, Eric Dane, and a bunch of other people as Los Angeles natives experiencing the various ups and downs of love on one specific Valentine’s Day. That’s it.
Despite the spiralling relationships we observe, the idea behind the flick is relatively simple and that’s refreshing. We aren’t overly committed to watching the relationships of the beautiful people go down a cavernous array of possibilities; we’re committed to watching them flounder and succeed for all of one vital day in the lives of romantics. The commercialism, the gooey commercialism, is front and centre for Marshall’s pic and he makes no bones about it. He is, you should note, not at all ashamed about the cheesiness of this project. And that’s why it works.
Much of what Hollywood passes off as romance is bundled up in superficial candy coating and Valentine’s Day is no different. The aspect of Marshall’s pic that separates it from the herd, however, is that the filmmaker and the stars are absolutely soaking in the stuff. There’s not an opportunity that’s passed up for some sort of hokey, corny line delivery or some sort of happy-ending mush. Just like Love, Actually, Valentine’s Day makes it all happen because of a strong belief in the premise of piling a bunch of well-known faces together and hoping that they’re all “in love.”
Don’t get me wrong, Love, Actually is a much better picture. That movie had magic and this movie really strains itself to capture the energy. All the same, though, Valentine’s Day is a sweet enough film and a lot of the stars do make it work. Surprisingly, the Swift/Lautner couple proves to be one of the most entertaining in the movie. Sure, the critics sneered at the indignity their poor unfortunate souls were asked to bear over the mere appearance of this saccharine little pair, but I didn’t find Swift’s shtick of dragging a giant bear around to be all that, yeah, unbearable. In fact, her performance was kind of, well, cute. Watch for her “long jump.” Hilarious.
Sure, this thing is filled to the brim with cliches and nods and winks, but I maintain that it’s supposed to be. Everyone is supposed to get together in the end because that’s what you’re looking for out of a cheesy Valentine’s Day movie. Expecting something different would be like expecting a Michael Bay movie to be about feelings and character development. It’s pointless to think otherwise, sourpuss.
Performance-wise, Valentine’s Day is okay. Some are better than others, of course, with Hathaway’s work as a phone sex operator proving quite amusing while Kutcher actually didn’t make me hate him. It was also interesting to see MacLaine and Elizondo as a couple, although I found their relationship to be a bit of a sell-out and the resolution of their problem could fill a few books with its misguided idealism. But so what?
At the end of the day, Valentine’s Day is either going to be your thing or it isn’t. You’re either going to sneer like a bloated fool and find this kind of cheese to be reprehensible, or you’re going to be a sensible human being and realize that movies like this are for lovers of love and all of its hokey, chocolate-coated trappings. It’s harmless fluff, unashamed of its celeb-filled corniness and that, as far as I’m concerned, is refreshing in a day and age of overly serious comic book flicks and mopey, Oscar-targeted excuses for dramatic exposition.