Just Like Heaven

Just Like Heaven


Reviewed by: Scott Macdonald

Films that deal with human loss are often reluctant to explore the chasm between the living and the spectral. You won't find much of this here, since there's no ghost in this story, just a domineering woman who happens to be able to walk through walls and a lonely but sensitive wastrel. They are the dual prongs of a love story that, despite my sincerest cynicism, allowed me to invest for the slender 90-minute runtime.

Reese Witherspoon plays Dr Elizabeth Masterson and immediately convinces us she has the intelligence and patience needed to handle a workaholic lifestyle. The opening credits are a tick-tock showpiece of her minute-to-minute decision making, shoehorned into a 26-hour shift, while downing thick coffee mud as fast as the staff room machine can spatter it out.

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Her boss promotes her to consultant and subsequently orders Elizabeth off the floor to take some rest and relaxation. Instead, she takes an impulsive decision to go on a blind date. Events do not go as planned and the next time we see her she's rather less solid than we expect.

Her apartment is let out to David Abbot (Mark Ruffalo), a two-year widower whose friends try to bring him out of his shell with his therapist friend, promoting "alcohol as social lubricant - to make men brave and women loose!" One out of two ain't bad, I guess.

Anyway, ghostly Elizabeth meets David and initially they despise one another, until the film's charm kicks in and works hard to wrap itself around the audience. This is an effective strategy by director Mark Waters, who traded well on the positive qualities of his cast in Mean Girls and the underrated Freaky Friday. Witherspoon and Ruffalo have notable romantic chemistry and I especially liked the scenes where they talk and share each other's experiences, becoming friends - they have much the same reluctant therapeutic relationship as Robin Williams and Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting. In that movie, where Williams talks about his wife's "imperfections but no.. That's the good stuff!" Heaven has much the same feeling, even if its writing isn't as richly formed.

Waters smoothes out the narrative in a clear and gentle manner, where all the important events are motivated by the characters and their carefully set up beliefs, but there's no getting around the fact the film's logic makes no real sense, complete with the gag-inducing statement of their unfinished business being each other. Just Like Heaven is about as flimsy as movies get, with all the half-spoken silly mumbo jumbo that goes with Most Haunted.

The real trouble with a saccharine story like this is the strange lack of any other palpable human connection. Witherspoon, as vivid, fiery and adorable as she was in Pleasantville and Election has recently been involved in startlingly inane vehicles, such as Legally Blonde 2 and Sweet Home Alabama. Heaven is better than both combined, but doesn't come without viewer effort.

The supporting cast make what they can of the spirit-thin material, especially Elizabeth's sister (Dina Spybey) and her three kids. Her sensitive and well-drawn characterisation makes an impression. Napoleon Dynamite's Jon Heder is a gas as a kid with the spectral gift - not quite Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost, but he's good at his one-trick comic relief - and delivers a final gag, reminiscent of the last game of marbles in Men In Black.

Reviewed on: 01 Jan 2006
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Ghostly love story that explores the difference between bumping into furniture and walking through walls
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Director: Mark Waters

Writer: Peter Tolan, Leslie Dixon, based on the novel, If Only It Were True, by Marc Levy

Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Mark Ruffalo, Donal Logue, Dina Spybey, Ben Shenkman, Jon Heder, Billy Beck, Raymond O'Connor, Ivan Milicevic, Rosalind Chao

Year: 2005

Runtime: 95 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US


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