VALENTINE'S DAY, 2010
Intertwining couples and singles in Los Angeles break-up and make-up based on the pressures and expectations of Valentine's Day.
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Valentine's Day gets a lot of criticism (which certainly doesn't stop us from observing it every year). That it's a made up holiday, that it serves no purpose than to give purveyors of schmaltz and easy sentiment another easy conduit for their product. And just to prove the people who think that right, we've been given Garry Marshall's "Valentine's Day."
It would take just about the entire length of this review to explain how the vast cast of characters who make up "Valentine's Day" connect together, (there's a florist who's best friend is dating a doctor and teaches a young boy who lives with his grandparents but his babysat by a teenager preparing to sleep with her boyfriend and I've already lost interest) but suffice it to say they do come together (even if they don't always know it) on Valentine's Day as various relationships begin and end and the nature of love itself is examined.
That's a pretty big reach for any film, and an even bigger canvas Marshall ("Pretty Woman") is going to approach it with. Luckily for everyone, he's decided to be as banal and shallow about it as possible. Marshall came up from sitcoms and it's always shown in his feature work which tend to be based on characters being maneuvered from situation to situation like set dressing in the endless pull of set up and punchline.
The punchline's haven't changed much for sitcoms or for Marshall, so most of them can be seen coming from a long way off. The real tension to be had is how long exactly he's going to hold his punch for. You can see the pay off, and it can be a little interesting how long you have to wait for it, but that's about it.
What you're left with are the actors. Not the characters, because these characters aren't characters. What you get then are non-characters. They're stereotypes inhabited by actors who have been cast to type, and who have only a few minutes per scene to jump into character. It's no surprise then that most of the dialog comes out more like a line reading during a table read than something someone real is actually saying.
This kind of stunt casting makes the odds of ending up with any sort of genuine chemistry among the characters minimal at best. Which is a problem because with the sheer weight of characters floating around "Valentine's Day" chemistry and charm are about the filmmaker's only hope. Many story-lines--like Taylor Lautner and Taylor Swift's young, air-headed, first romance teenagers--are more like brief tableau's of scenes jammed together rather than an actual story. Sometimes this kind of thing can work, if the actors are good enough and the dialog is sharp enough.
Some of it is actually winsome. Jamie Foxx descends back to some of his "In Living Color" silliness that he won't let himself do anymore as a sportscaster forced by his producer (Kathy Bates) to go out and find some romantic stories for the day.
And Anney Hathaway gets a lot of mileage out of a secretary trying to balance her temp job working for a high stress sports agent (Queen Latifah) and new relationship with a guy from the mail room (Topher Grace) with her nighttime job as a phone sex operator. As one note as most of the set ups and pay offs are, she actually makes them work more often than not.
On the other end you get Julia Roberts pointless plane trip, Jessica Biel's obligatory neurotic and Ashton Kutcher playing the straight man, which is definitely not to his strengths. (On the other hand at least he's not shouting to be funny). It's a hodge podge at best, with many sequences seemingly created in order to get an actor into the film rather than offering anything to the story itself. The end result is something of a wash.
If you mainly watch movies in order to see actors you like, "Valentine's Day" is a bargain at twice the price. The minute per movie star average is off the chart here. And if you like sit-coms, it's even better. But considering the trend for movies has been away from movie stars and more and more towards visuals, it seems more and more likely that this movie wasn't made for anyone.