"It's a Wonderful Afterlife".
Remember that tag line. We'll discuss it later.
Elizabeth (Reese Witherspoon), an intern at a prestigious San Francisco hospital, works around the clock, taking on any patient, in an effort to win a coveted staff position at the institution. Driving home one rainy night, she gets into an accident with a truck. David (Mark Ruffalo), a landscape architect, is looking for a new apartment to hibernate as he works through some bad memories. He ends up subleasing Elizabeth's apartment and soon meets the feisty spirit. It takes a while, but Elizabeth soon realizes that she had an accident and David isn't a burglar. As they begin to learn about each other, the attraction proves mutual.
"Just Like Heaven", directed by Mark Waters ("Mean Girls") and starring Witherspoon, Ruffalo and Jon Heder ("Napoleon Dynamite") is the newest romantic comedy to hit the multiplexes.
My philosophy has always been to try to ascertain what a movie is trying to do. If it does this, it is successful. If a comedy makes me laugh, bravo. If a drama moves me, great. Of course, films accomplish this to different degrees. "Heaven" is a romantic comedy with a capital R and C. Every element of the film is calculated to make people either laugh or cry. From the extremely lovable costars to the beautiful apartment. From the contrived method by which Elizabeth and David meet to the inevitable conclusion, "Heaven" has RC stamped on every frame. And everything is calculated to lead to that oh so inevitable conclusion, the final kiss between the two stars. That final kiss is the reason films like this are made in the first place. You have to give the soccer moms a little romance to remember during their trip home back to reality.
In that regard, it is successful. If you are looking for a standard, run of the mill romantic comedy, "Just Like Heaven" is your film.
However, if you seek something a little more challenging in your every day film, "Heaven" will bore you to tears. It is an extremely conventional film and frankly, I was expecting more. "Mean Girls", the director's last film, was a surprise. Certainly not your typical "High School Comedy", "Girls" has a darkly humorous bent, showing a different side of life as a teenager. "Heaven" has a couple of funny moments, but overall, it seems like Waters took the safe road, opting to make a film which will clearly be a favorite on cable, playing ad nauseum.
As mentioned, there are a few moments of unexpected comedy, but they are few and far between. After David realizes Elizabeth might be a ghost, he asks a number of people for help, providing an amusing montage. Donal Logue (TVs "Grounded for Life") plays Jack, a friend of David's. This character is a brief, but welcome addition adding a couple of laughs.
Remember the tagline? The following contains a spoiler, so beware....
As far as I know, "Afterlife" refers to the period after a person's death. The After Life. All of the trailers and ads seem to indicate that Elizabeth dies in the film. Ruffalo even stares up at Reese's heavenly portrait in the posters. You know, looking to the heavens? But "Heaven" is a very conventional Hollywood film and in Hollywood, the stars of a romantic film have to get together in the end. Yes, there are exceptions, but there usually has to be that last payoff kiss for the swooning public to remember on the way home. They have to get something for their $10. Does David fall in love with a ghost? No. He falls in love with her spirit and, you guessed it, she is in a COMA. What do you think happens in the end? Before the kiss, of course.
So the film cheats. We are lead to believe she dies, yet halfway through, David and Elizabeth learn she is in a coma. Will she ever come out of it? Will they ever fall in love in time for that final kiss?
How could they do anything but?
I guess I didn't like this film very much. It just seems like a waste to sit through a film that offers nothing new. Go to something a little more challenging. Step outside of the box. Heaven knows the filmmakers didn't.