The sign over the bed Reed (Ashton Kutcher) shares with Morley (Jessica Alba) reads “Frolic Room.” Alas, such infinite cuteness (who spent even a minute thinking up that set décor?) can’t stave off the disaster of their relationship, made obvious as soon as he tries to loose her hand from under her pillow while she’s still sleeping. Reed smiles as he realizes she’s clutching her BlackBerry, but you know this means trouble in the RomCom Universe. Morley now has two options in Valentine’s Day: submit or die.
Still, the film goes through frolicky motions. Reed gets down on his knee before his slumbering love object, proposes marriage with a gigantic diamond, and smiles uncontrollably when she agrees. Morley’s part is harder to gauge: her eyes wide, head coiffed, and tan expensively even, she looks decidedly stunned — and not in a good way. Reed, wrapped up in his own delighting, chooses not to notice, a sign that this is the way their relationship — such as it is — might have been going since its script-session inception.
The manifest wrongness of this couple — not to mention Reed’s manifest self-delusion — reveals the film’s so-called strategy. Each of the too-many couples here will have a revelation, including the couples who don’t know they’re couples in this first moment of the day. Over the next 20something hours, they will realize how wrong or how right their entanglements have been. Grindingly, the rightest one is the stuntiest, the high school romance embodied by the two Taylors, Swift and Lautner, who kiss and paw and kiss and paw for a TV reporter who half-grimaces as they act out: “Young love: full of promise, full of hope, but ignorant!”
It matters not that the reporter mocks them. Willy and Felicia are mocked whenever they pop up among this series of tableaux, repeatedly flaunting their godlike gorgeousness and astounding stupidity. Yes, the joke they embody is both old and unfunny, but so is every other bit in Garry Marshall’s Love Extravaganza, from the secretly quixotic workaholic to the cheater who gets his to the gold-hearted sex worker to closeted gay man to the self-described black player (what decade is this again?). The movie lines up a series of character types, pretty people all, their predictable travails leading to a series of heartwarming clinches.
It doesn’t help that they sort of sometimes cross paths during their day in LA. Reed leaves his bedroom for work — a flower-shop-cum-café — where he chats with his best friend Julia (Jennifer Garner) and his best driver Alphonso (George Lopez). Then he takes delivery orders from adorable 10-year-old Edison (Bryce Robinson) as well as Julia’s lover, the heart surgeon (sheesh!), Dr. Harrison Copeland (Patrick Dempsey). He learns something from each encounter, though it takes him the rest of the day to act on his lessons. Until then, he lives according to his self-admittedly cheesy credo: “It’s Valentine’s Day: you don’t think, you just do.”
Others circling near his flower shop follow suit. Overachiever Kara (Jessica Biel), Julia’ other best friend, spends her on-screen minutes complaining about Valentine’s Day, disappointed every time she checks the online RSVPs to her hate-the-holiday party (apparently no one is coming, which means that yet again, she is the only miserable solo on the planet Los Angeles). A sports publicist, she’s drawn to sports reporter Kevin (Jamie Foxx), as they both conflate ambition and loneliness (“My closest relationship is with my BlackBerry,” confesses Kevin, indicating that if his day goes another way, he’s a ready partner for Morley).
Kara’s day-job has her interacting, sort of, with Paula (Queen Latifah), agent to the cover-boy quarterback Sean Jackson (Eric Dane) who’s been cut by his team and considering options. As these high-powered ladies scurry to set up the man’s all-important press conference, they’re briefly distracted by their lack of holiday-appropriate love opportunities. Kara indulges in sugar (yes, the cliché is that tired), Paula in domination. Apparently she has nothing better to do in her office than intimidate her new receptionist, Liz (Anne Hathaway), who is doing her best to juggle this gig and her other one, namely, phone sex.
Bad enough that Liz’s workday is repeatedly interrupted by a client named Vladimir, but her efforts to look straight are further hampered by her new boyfriend, Jason (Topher Grace). She tumbles out of his bed and rushes to the office, cell-phone on her ear as she tries on accents ranging from Russian to Streetcar-Named-Desire. He’s a mailroom worker and self-identified Midwestern rube, sure to be horrified when he learns the truth, and so she pretends her acrobatics in bed the previous night are inspired by her genuine affection for him (along with a likely insincere explanation: “I used to be a gymnast”). He believes it, until he doesn’t.
This problem with the truth is apparently infectious, as most of the plots here are jumpstarted by secrets or lies. According to Valentine’s Day, young love, however mocked, turns into old love, all generations equally hopeful and ignorant. Some non-disclosures are probably benevolent (Julia Roberts’ Army captain doesn’t reveal why she’s flying home for 28 hours just one day). Others are patently ridiculous (Reed doesn’t want to spoil Julia’s big day, and so puts off telling her what he knows about her completely doggish boyfriend). But in a movie about a holiday manufactured by Hallmark, you wouldn’t expect the truth to out.