Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Valentine's Day (2010)

Only a month into the new year, Valentine’s Day is being haled by critics as the worst movie of 2010. They hate the number of storylines, chide the talented cast for being involved with such silliness, and mope and groan about the movie’s blunt approach to kitschy Hollywood romance. As if they somehow expected it to be anything different.

Directed by romantic and melodrama enthusiast Gary Marshall, Valentine’s Day is the rom-com equivalent of a big summer blockbuster – it’s filled with pretty people living pretty lives of love, loss and anguish, fueled primarily by star attraction and comfortably familiar stories. But so what? Aren’t these the reasons people rush to the movies for relationship escapism?

Filled with so many romantic vignettes that I didn’t bother counting, Valentine’s Day feels a lot like all the other rom-coms, except the stories aren’t dragged out long past their worth. Intertangled and compressed (sometimes to only a few scenes), the tales play out quick and fun, dipping into clichés but never long enough to drown in them. Instead they play on them, sometimes giving us exactly what we expect, other times something left of the dial. And nothing feels as authentic here as the film’s awareness of these tried and true rom-com tendencies, and it’s fondness for them.

A friend recently compared it to “spending about an hour and a half in the greeting card isle”, an affable but underselling assessment. True, it’s equally corny and maintains a similar “short n sweet” attitude. But it’s also enough to fill you up, to keep you immersed in a rom-com world, if perhaps on steroids and riddled with ADHD.

The star-studded cast includes Marshall favorite Julia Roberts - his muse in Pretty Woman (1990) and Runaway Bride (1999) - and she’s justly given one of the few unique storylines, complete with a twist you may or may not see coming, but can’t help enjoying. Filling the marquee with her are the likes of Ashton Kutcher (in the closest thing to a lead role), Jennifer Garner, Jamie Foxx, Jessica Biel, Jessica Alba, Patrick Dempsey, Anne Hathaway, George Lopez, Shirley MacLain, Julia’s niece Emma Roberts, and a dozen more Hollywood names. It’s almost an overdose, or at least the most interesting paparazzi portfolio ever.

But most importantly, it’s date-night fun. As a feature film made up of romantic shorts, Valentine’s Day is drawing a lot of comparisons to British Christmas/love fest Love Actually (2003), except it’s not nearly as pretentious and never pretends to be art. Gary Marhsall’s film is – to use a fittingly overwrought analogy – like a box of chocolates, filled with a variety of familiar sweets that may leave you with a toothache but are no less enjoyable for being, simply, a box of chocolates.

Really, all it comes down to is this – the Movie Gal liked it, her best friend has seen it twice. So forget what curmudgeon critics might say. For these two and so many else like them, this movie did exactly what it was supposed to.

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