September 24, 2005

MOVIES: Just Like Heaven (Mark Waters, 2005)

Just your average boy-gets-ghost story, with a weird political subtext.

Elizabeth (Reese Witherspoon) is a hard-working ER doctor, dedicated to her career at the expense of any personal life. She's headed to her sister's for a blind date, after a 26-hour shift at work, when her car is smashed by a truck. Fade to white...

...and cut to David (Mark Ruffalo), who's subletting Elizabeth's fabulous San Francisco apartment, and is horrified when Elizabeth's spirit appears, wanting to know what he's doing in her home. She doesn't realize at first that she is a spirit, and seems to be suffering from amnesia about the details of her life.

From here, the story goes about where you'd expect: David and Elizabeth bicker as David (who is, of course, the only one who can see Elizabeth) tries to figure out why she's still here and how to get rid of her, but they gradually fall in love.

OK, if you're the sort who's sensitive to spoilers, you should stop reading right now.

Because I'm going to be talking about a plot twist that you might not want to know about.

Note that I'm being kind enough to take my time getting there, so you have lots of time to STOP READING if you don't like to know that sort of thing.

So if you're still reading, I don't want to hear any "how could you give that away" nonsense, all right?

Turns out that Elizabeth isn't actually dead; she's in a coma after that car crash. It's been three months and her big sister is about to pull the plug. And suddenly we're in some weird Jeb Bush fantasy as David and Elizabeth's spirit fight to stop Elizabeth's body from being taken off life support.

There's not much suspense in the ending, or anywhere in the movie, for that matter; it is a romantic comedy, after all, and we know that David and Elizabeth have to wind up together and live Happily Ever After. As such things go, though, this is adequately done (if you can get past being clubbed upside the head with the pro-life-support message), and Witherspoon and Ruffalo, two of our most likable actors, do a lot to sell the story's most implausible moments.

This is director Mark Waters' third straight film that's better than it really deserved to be (it follows the Freaky Friday remake and Mean Girls), and it will be interesting to see what he does when he gets his hands on a decent script.

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