Valentine’s Day, the latest from romantic comedy specialist Gary Marshall, is also the most recent attempt to duplicate the critical and commercial successes of the 2003 holiday sensation Love, Actually. Its methods, though, are more conformist than the British charmer.
Yes, they both enlist a multitude of stars. Each also use the interlocking stories structure where seemingly unrelated characters collide by fate, chance, or design. Unfortunately, the similarities end at the superficial, and Valentine’s Day never becomes the engaging, heart-warming fairy tale reminiscent of its inspiration.
One of its faults falls under sequel syndrome. Though Valentine’s Day (hence forth referred to as VD to reflect the film’s similarities to the abbreviation’s more common meaning) is technically an original work, it still tries to be bigger, brighter, and bolder than its predecessors. After all, it not only has to outdo Love, Actually, but last year’s horrific He’s Just Not That Into You as well.
As shocking as it was in its ineptitude to woo enthusiasts, VD must overpower HJNTIY (admittedly not as catchy, but still a sticky condition you’ll want to avoid) in star power if it hopes to duplicate its financial triumph. So what’s the answer according to Marshall and the gang? Well, to start with, there are more stories, and more stories means more stars to tell them.
Ashton Kutcher plays Reed, a florist who proposed to his girlfriend Morley (Jessica Alba) bright and early Valentine’s Day morning. She said yes and now he’s pumped to spend the day worshipping love and all its benefactors.
His best friend, Julia (Jennifer Garner), woke up in a similarly joyous spirit, but starts to have suspicions regarding her lover, Harrison (Patrick Dempsey), when he bails on their Valentine’s Day dinner. Luckily, she can still go to her V-day hating friend Kara’s anti-love party.
Kara is a hyperventilating mess of a sports agent partially because one of her clients is contemplating retirement to spend more time with his family (Eric Dane), but more so due to the day itself. If only she would somehow bump into Kelvin (Jamie Foxx), a television sports reporter who also loathes Valentine’s Day and all its mushy sentiments. Unlucky for him, the only available assignment is to record a series of on-the-street interviews about the glory that is this day.
It actually takes more than a half hour just to introduce all these characters in the film, and I’ve only gotten to half of them, here. Topher Grace and Anne Hathaway are just getting to know each other when they face a culture crisis (she’s a part-time phone sex operator and he’s a simple country boy from Indiana).
Bradley Cooper and Julia Roberts are seatmates on an airline flight into Los Angeles, but don’t let the simple setup fool you – they aren’t meant to be. Also, of course, Taylor Lautner and Taylor Swift play stereotypes of what might happen if the two Taylors had hooked up in high school sans fame and fortune.
Ugh. I’m too exhausted to get into the rest of the gang (including another teenage couple, the world’s most annoying kid, and an inexplicably loveless Queen Latifah). Let me just assure you this inflated picture is stuffed to the gills with every love story ever told a hundred times prior and a hundred times better. The couples are carefully crafted to relate to as wide a demographic as possible. There’s the new couples, old couples, teenage couples, and best friends who may end up a couple. Some couples make it and some don’t but you know who will end up with whom by the time the introductory 30-minutes are up.
This is where VD starts to make us a bit lovesick for its mentor. There were many different couples in Love, Actually, and each one was paired up with their final mate early on in the film. However, each one got the proper amount of time, attention, and individuality necessary for people to become attached to their fates.
Fans of love stories don’t need to witness the exact same fight they just had with their spouse to identify with the onscreen couple. They have to be convinced that these two people have a deep, heartfelt love for one another. When Jamie walks into the café followed by the Barros family and asks Aurelia “to marriage me” in a somewhat warped version of her first language, it never crosses the line into schmaltz because we believe he would do that for her. Sure, it’s almost too perfect of an ending for a couple plagued by their language barriers throughout, but we simply don’t care because the writer never slighted us.
If Marshall and screenwriter Katherine Fugate would have prescribed a little restraint, perhaps their audience would have recovered nicely from the VD massacre. Instead, we end up with a bloated monstrosity of a movie whose introduction is lingering, middle messy, and ending abrupt.
It’s fitting that the special features are as ample as the star total. The Blu-ray release includes a digital copy of the film, two interview-based documentaries, director’s commentary, a blooper reel, music video, and more than 20-minutes of deleted scenes all featuring individual introductions by Marshall. In each 10-15 second preface, the affable director explains why he had to cut the forthcoming scene even though it was wonderful. Well, maybe the scene wasn’t wonderful, but the actors were. Or maybe it just had one of his favorite people in it.
If you have the patience and interest to sit through the mostly forgettable clips, you may find yourself won over by Marshall’s sheer enthusiasm. After all, it seems pretty clear the man’s intentions were pure. Still, his charms may wear off, but VD won’t.