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Just Like Heaven

Looking for a Date Movie? Look No Further.

Just Like Heaven, a romantic comedy/fantasy/drama directed by Mark Waters (Mean Girls, Freaky Friday and based on a novel, If Only It Were True by Marc Levy), marks the first on screen pairing of Reese Witherspoon (Election, Legally Blonde) and Mark Ruffalo (You Can Count on Me, We Don't Live Here Anymore) as a romantic couple separated by the metaphysical barrier between life and death. Despite a dubious, distasteful plot turn or two and the typically conservative subtext that lies at the core of the romantic comedy genre (i.e., all roads lead or should lead to heterosexual monogamy), Just Like Heaven manages to provide audiences with a modicum of lightweight, sentimental entertainment.

Whatever success Just Like Heaven receives at the local multiplex will be due to Ruffalo and Witherspoon's persuasive onscreen chemistry. Elizabeth Martinson (Reese Witherspoon), a young, career-oriented physician at a San Francisco hospital spends little time socializing, at home, or with her family. At the hospital, Elizabeth listens with detached interest and trepidation at her co-workers stories. One, a fellow doctor, is married, but her husband is pressuring her to have a baby. Another, a nurse, wearily devotes her spare time on her children. A third, Elizabeth's mentor, Fran (Rosalind Chao), has recently gone through a friendly divorce. Only Elizabeth seems never to have experienced romantic love. Elizabeth's married sister, Abby (Dina Spybey), harbors concerns about Elizabeth's missing love life. To that end, she cajoles Elizabeth into accepting a blind date. Almost simultaneously, Elizabeth's career aspirations are fulfilled: she's obtained the coveted attending physician slot at the hospital. All this, of course, is prelude to an accident that apparently robs Elizabeth of everything, including her life.

Enter David Abbot (Mark Ruffalo), a dejected, slightly disheveled former landscape architect looking to sublet a fully furnished apartment in San Francisco. After several failed attempts, a fortuitous coincidence leads him to Elizabeth's still furnished apartment. Immediately comfortable (especially with the all-important couch), David settles in for a night of lonely drinking and TV-watching. In walks Elizabeth, angry with the usurper making a mess in her tidy apartment. David responds with incredulity, assuming that Elizabeth is emotionally troubled and confused. There's one catch: Elizabeth can walk through objects, including walls. In addition, Elizabeth seems to have forgotten most of the facts of her earthly life.

David, afraid he's hallucinating Elizabeth's visitation seeks the help of an old friend and psychologist, Jack Houriskey (Donal Logue), who suggests David begin socializing again. With Elizabeth refusing to disappear (even after he suggests she's dead and should move on), David wanders into an occult bookstore. There, with the help of a book clerk with paranormal abilities, Darryl (Jon Heder, Napoleon Dynamite), David researches the afterlife, settling on exorcising Elizabeth's spirit from his apartment and his life (to semi-hilarious results). Alas, poor David is frustrated at every turn, ultimately deciding that the solution lies in discovering who Elizabeth was and how he can help her move on.

Which leads us back to where we began, to the leads, Reese Witherspoon (whose made a successful career out of plucky, determined heroines) and Mark Ruffalo (whose dramatic roles portraying emotionally damaged men serve him well here). More importantly, they share an onscreen chemistry, which in turn is aided by a solid, sporadically witty script by Peter Tolan (Analyze This) and Leslie Dixon (Freaky Friday). The script has several deficiencies, primarily in underutilizing two key characters, Darryl and Jack. Jack appears only intermittently, but when he does, he provides a subversive, vulgar (and funny, of course) counterpoint to the romantic storyline. Jack also has all the best lines in the film. Perhaps most egregiously, Just Like Heaven relies on overused pop songs early in the film to set the mood and tone. Luckily, director Mark Waters thankfully turns down the volume in the second half and resorts to a conventional, less obtrusive musical score.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars