The tagline for this film – “it’s a wonderful afterlife” – tells you all you need to know about what you’re about to see. Just Like Heaven is an old school rom-com of the fluffiest kind, unburdened by irony, and post-modern knowingness, the kind of film the term ‘chick-flick’ was coined for. Unfortunately though it aims for old fashioned sparkle and sweetness it lacks the kind of memorable scenes and witty dialogue necessary to lift it clear of the syrup.
The high concept yet oddly simplistic set-up sees the eternally perky Reese Witherspoon playing Elizabeth, a workaholic young doctor at a busy San Francisco hospital. She’s dedicated to her job and oh so cute in her scrubs but has no real social life to speak of, so her despairing sister sets her up on a blind date. However Elizabeth’s journey to meet this mystery man is rather violently curtailed by a car accident.
Cut to an apartment-hunting Mark Ruffalo as David, a somewhat slobbish individual whose property-selecting criteria revolve solely around assessing the comfiness of the couch. After turning down a succession of improbably cavernous places, he serendipitously settles on a particularly lovely flat with a view of San Fran bay – which would be perfect were he the sole tenant. Instead he finds himself cohabiting with a pissed off ex-medic who’s less than pleased to find a scruffy man leaving ring marks on her coffee table
And it soon becomes clear that not only does Elizabeth have tenancy issues, but she is also lacking both corporeal form (prone to walking through walls and tables, that sort of thing) as well as any memory of who she was in her previous life. David, understandably, starts to worry that he’s losing it. It’s a concern he works through with surprising speed however and, after a few failed attempts at exorcism (including an endearing cameo from Napoleon Dynamite‘s Jon Heder), he resigns himself to helping her find out who she was.
This is when things get decidedly odd. David discovers that Elizabeth isn’t dead at all, but in fact the accident has left her in a photogenic coma (no visible injuries; nothing a bit of blusher couldn’t fix). Can David save her before the life support machines are turned off?
Despite a couple of dubious detours – living wills and arguments about the artificial prolongation of life in a rom-com? Really? – Just Like Heaven is predictable, unchallenging stuff, with each supposedly touching moment flagged up well in advance by the workmanlike script.
Having said that, Ruffalo and Witherspoon have a charm that cuts through the corniness, but for a love that transcends the supernatural their pairing is severely lacking in chemistry. They’re both talented performers but here they’re just treading water. For Ruffalo it may just be a blip, but Witherspoon seems to be intent on undermining the early promise of her career. Here’s hoping that her turn in the forthcoming Walk The Line can put things right.