By Sarah Carlson, Arts Editor
Humans have always been interested in the supernatural, otherworldly realms that might exist-and many claim they do. Countless movies have been made that include ghosts, poltergeists or other spirits, whether they remain on earth to haunt us or simply want to fulfill their unfinished business and move on.
Romantic films involving ghosts are not as common as thrillers or mysteries, but when done right, such as in “Ghost” and “Always,” the two worlds can be connected to form a believable love story.
“Just Like Heaven” wants to be “Ghost,” quite badly. It wants to be “Ghost” so bad that it even steals scenes and situations from its predecessor, which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture in 1991. “Just Like Heaven” couldn’t make it to the Oscars this year even if its directors had actually brought someone back from the dead and proved it on-screen.
The premise is simple enough: Elizabeth (Witherspoon) is a young doctor living in San Francisco and killing herself for her job and the chance of an attending position at the hospital. We see her dreaming of a garden and when she wakes up from her six-minute nap, she’s back to work, continuing her 23-hour shift with enough coffee to kill a small animal. Her coworkers tell her how lucky she is to not have a family or, really, a life to worry about. Her neighbors don’t know she exists, and her coworkers laugh at the idea of her actually having a boyfriend.
As Elizabeth rushes to her sister’s house for a blind date, her car is hit by a semi-truck and we all assume the inevitable. The next scene is of David (Ruffalo) visiting various apartments in the San Francisco area with his realtor. He’s distant and picky and judges the furnished apartments by whether he likes the feel of the couch. He finally chooses an apartment just put on the market, fully furnished with a private roof looking out onto the city. After spending days sitting on the couch, drinking and watching TV, he gets quite the surprise: he’s not alone.
David starts to see Elizabeth in his apartment, appearing here and there and demanding to know who he is and how he got into her apartment. She claims the apartment is hers, but she can’t remember anything else about her life. For some reason, she remembers she bought her sheets at Nordstrom and the receipt is in her bedside drawer. But her name? Who knows.
She’s convinced she’s alive; he’s convinced she’s dead. David seeks help from a psychic (Heder, “Napoleon Dynamite,” in the film for brief comic relief only) and tries everything to get rid of her. But, since she’s convinced she’s not dead, she wants his help so she can discover who she is. Enter scenes from “Ghost.” Elizabeth decides to annoy David by sitting in front of the TV and singing at the top of her lungs, or by inhabiting his body and making him appear ridiculous in front of crowds. This bantering and comedic gags brought Whoopi Goldberg a supporting actress Oscar for her role as the psychic in “Ghost,” a role Heder can’t fill at all. David finally agrees to help her and after some digging, they learn her identity.
The premise of the film is fate and why Elizabeth and David are brought together. The plot twists are minimal, but they won’t be spoiled here. The most disappointing aspect of “Just Like Heaven” is the lack of quality in the acting, especially from such talented performers as Witherspoon and Ruffalo. In certain scenes, it’s hard to tell if we’re listening to Elizabeth, or Reese herself, or maybe Elle Woods from “Legally Blonde.” Ruffalo (“You Can Count On Me,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” “Collateral”) is much too talented to be in this movie, and it’s worrisome that he’s been devoting himself to such fluff lately.
Aside from the acting, poor timing and editing make the few jokes fall flat. The cuts back and forth from the characters in a conversation aren’t quick enough, and this hesitation is just enough to make the audience members second-guess what they’re hearing. Heder and Logue, a psychiatrist friend of David’s, provide the most laughs and strange coincidences, but too few and too far between.
“Just Like Heaven” is a typical, easily digested and spit out romantic comedy. Some of the plot twists could be considered unique and a worthy attempt, but, ultimately, one would be better off staying at home and renting “Ghost” or “Always.”
“Just Like Heaven”
Starring Reese Witherspoon, Mark Ruffalo, Jon Heder, Donal Logue; directed by Mark Waters.
Rated PG-13 (for some sexual content)