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Just Like Heaven Review

By Shawn McKenzie 09/16/2005

Usually chick flicks are fairly predictable, but I usually forgive that factor if they are at least entertaining.  The supernatural romantic comedy Just Like Heaven is a chick flick that actually contains a story that didn’t find predictable.

Elizabeth Masterson (Reese Witherspoon) is a young, dedicated, talented blonde doctor at St. Matthews Hospital in San Francisco.  Since she works so much, she doesn’t have much of a personal life.  Part of why she is working so hard is because she is competing against Brett Rushton (Ben Shenkman) for an attendee slot with Dr. Walsh (Ron Canada.)  She certainly doesn’t have time for a boyfriend, though she has gotten several marriage proposals from an octogenarian named Mr. Clarke (Billy Beck.)  Both Elizabeth’s best friend and fellow doctor Fran Lowe (Rosalind Chao) and her sister Abby Brody (Dina Waters) are concerned for her, because they think that she isn’t enjoying life, unlike Nurse Jenny (Shulie Cowen), who seems to be able to have a life herself.  One day, following a long 23-hour shift, Elizabeth has a car accident on her way to a blind date that was set up by Abby.  The movie then shifts to three months later, and we follow the story of landscape architect David Abbott (Mark Ruffalo), who is still mourning the loss of his wife Laura from a cerebral hemorrhage she suffered two years ago.  His realtor Grace (Caroline Aaron) tries to show him several apartments, none of which he likes.  An implausible gust of wind blows a flyer advertising an apartment onto David’s leg.  He reads it, checks the furnished apartment out, and takes it…mainly because it has a comfortable couch.  He signs a month-to-month lease, and then spends his time drinking, watching his wedding videos, and continuing to mourn.  One night, a blonde woman visits David and demands that he get out of her apartment or she will call the police.  She thinks that David is squatting there, but he tells her that her family sublet it to him.  The woman knows that this is her apartment, but she doesn’t remember much else.  In fact, she has to learn her own name from the coffee mug that David is drinking from…Elizabeth.  Suddenly, she goes away, which freaks him out, and he blames it on the drinking.  He expresses this concern to his psychiatrist friend Jack Houriskey (Donal Logue), who thinks that David might be going crazy.  Elizabeth shows up in his bathroom, which freaks him out again, and he continues being freaked when she passes through walls, tables, and other things.  She continues insisting that the apartment is hers though, but David is apparently the only one who can see her.  He tries consulting several experts to rid the apartment of its blonde spirit, including a Chinese exorcist (Lucille Soong), a trio of ghostbusters (Joel McKinnon Miller, Victor Yerrid, and Robert Benjamin), and a Catholic priest (Raymond O’Connor.)  Finally, he finds some answers from an occult bookstore worker named Darryl (Jon Heder), who determines that Elizabeth is one of the most alive spirits he has ever felt, unlike David, who appears to be dead inside.  He decides to accept her presence and tries to help her find some answers as to who she was in her former life.  He tries asking several neighbors if they remember her.  They aren’t much help, because she kept to herself overall, but his hottie new downstairs neighbor Katrina (Ivana Milicevic) does flirt with him.  David also tries going to an address that he finds on a piece of paper in her apartment that belongs to Donald (Doug Krizner), who tries to give him some hush money so that he won’t tell his wife about the affair that he is having (making Elizabeth think that she was a home wrecking slut in her former life.)  After she assists David in saving the life of a choking man, Elizabeth remembers that she was a doctor.  She and David go to St. Matthews and find out some revealing facts about what happened to her following her car accident.  Meanwhile, David’s acceptance of Elizabeth grows into love, which is odd for him, because he can’t even touch her.

It is through David’s investigation of Elizabeth’s life that the movie goes in a direction that I wasn’t expecting.  I don’t want to tell you what he finds out, but it wasn’t what I thought was going to happen.

Peter Tolan and Leslie Dixon adapted French writer Marc Levy’s 2000 debut novel If Only It Were True in order to make director Mark Waters’ film.  Waters has had a good track record so far with 2003’s Freaky Friday and last year’s Mean Girls (his only misstep so far has been the awful 2001 Freddie Prinze Jr. romantic comedy Head Over Heels.)  While I don’t think that this movie is good as either Freaky or Girls, I did enjoy it.

Aside from the creative script and the good directing, the movie’s highlight is the performances of the movie’s two leads.  I haven’t seen all of Witherspoon’s movies, but I was just looking over her filmography, and I noticed that I have enjoyed every movie of hers that I have seen.  The first movie I saw her in was 1994’s S.F.W., where she played a hostage victim.  The next one I saw her in was 1996’s Freeway, where she played a contemporary Little Red Riding Hood running from a Big Bad Wolf.  That movie made me notice her talents.  She was twice nominated for a Golden Globe for 1999’s Election and 2001’s Legally Blonde, both movies I absolutely love.  She had good chemistry with Josh Lucas in 2002’s Sweet Home Alabama, and she has good chemistry here with Ruffalo.  He had decent chemistry with Jennifer Garner in the just okay 2004 movie 13 Going On 30, but he tops that here.

As for the supporting cast, they are criminally underused.  I am a big fan of Logue, and I want to see him another role like the excellent 2000 movie The Tao of Steve.  He doesn’t get to do much, other than help out Ruffalo’s character occasionally.  I was very curious to see what Heder would be like in his first role since his breakout role in last year’s Napoleon Dynamite.  He essentially channels Dynamite here, though he doesn’t have the goofy wig and glasses.  He is funny, but he didn’t show his range with this movie.

Just Like Heaven is basically the romantic comedy version of the 1990 Patrick Swayze/Demi Moore/Whoopi Goldberg romantic drama Ghost, but with little differences.  Those differences are the things that separate it from most chick flicks and make it fun to watch.  It is a great date movie, and I think that you might be in heaven while watching it.

Get the soundtrack featuring songs by Pete Yorn, Katie Melua, The Cars, Bowling for Soup, Kelis, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Beck, The Cure, and more:

Get the novel If Only It Were True by Marc Levy that the movie is based on:

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