Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day

***1/2

Reviewed by: Val Kermode

This film weaves together the stories of several characters on Valentine's Day in Los Angeles. There are lovers of all ages, from children to grandparents. Some are just starting out in relationships, some are cheating, some are with the wrong partners. Their paths will cross and some will find true love. Is your heart sinking yet? Don't let it. This is not just another romcom. It's by director Garry Marshall who brought us Pretty Woman, and he hasn't lost his touch.

This doesn't have the strong storyline of that famous earlier success. Juggling a host of characters and their love stories is never going to be easy. But Marshall manages to pull it off and even springs some surprises amongst the happy endings.

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Those who couldn't accept Julia Roberts as an LA hooker may feel similarly uneasy about this glossy portrait of happy multiracial L.A. Reed Bennett (Ashton Kutcher) - a florist whose working day is like one big family party. His best friend is Latino, his assistant Japanese (and gay – ticking two boxes there). His customers say things like “I used to be Bulgarian, but I'm an American citizen now.” Everyone is so damned nice to each other.

This is also a place where everyone wakes up in a pretty room with perfect make-up and a fresh- from-the-gym body. In the very first scene, the buff Ashton Kutcher wakes the beautiful Jessica Alba with a diamond ring and a marriage proposal. But bear with this. It's not long before it all becomes delightfully self-mocking.

Morley (Alba) sensibly decides she isn't ready for marriage. Bennett discovers that the lover of his best friend Julia is a married cheat. Julia is played by Jennifer Garner, looking very much like a young Julia Roberts, and she is clearly “the one”. Meanwhile, the actual Julia Roberts plays Kate, an army captain who meets nice guy Holden (Bradley Cooper) while flying back to the one she left behind.

All is played with great panache under a Californian sun with the accent on the colours of Valentine's Day, a well-matched soundtrack and a pace that rarely falters. Anne Hathaway shines as an “adult phone entertainer”, i.e. earning a living from phone sex. She reminds one increasingly of Katherine Hepburn in her ability to deliver crackling comedy. Queen Latifah is droll as ever, and Bradley Cooper redeems himself after The Proposal.

But the joy is in the details, the jaded air steward switching on her flashing Valentine's badge and handing out heart-shaped lollies, the tap-dancing weather presenter, the angry girlfriend exposing a tour guide with a placard saying “Cisco is a cheating rat.” Much of this goes on in the background, providing a quality sadly lacking in most recent romcoms.

If you're looking for a date movie, there's plenty of romance here, some of it a little too schmaltzy, like the Shirley MacLaine character and the cute kid played by Bryce Robinson. But hey, you were warned by the title (unless you thought it was 1929, and they even have that covered). If you're looking for solid entertainment with high production values you'll find that here too. Julia gets her lovely revenge moment, just like Vivian in Pretty Woman. And don't rush out when the closing credits begin because Julia Roberts has another little message you won't want to miss.

Reviewed on: 10 Feb 2010
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Valentine's Day packshot
An ensemble drama looks at how different individuals and couples cope with the pressure of Valentine's Day.
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