Critics Are Throwing Heart Candies At The Screen

Eleanor Barkhorn at The Atlantic has a round-up of the best digs at this movie.

Dana Stevens at Slate:

Try realizing, a half-hour into this 126-minute movie, that all those narratives (plus at least three more) have just been set in place, and that you’re responsible for accompanying and eventually summarizing all 12 story arcs, from buildup to crisis to resolution. It’s like operating an air-traffic control tower: Whoa! Shirley MacLaine incoming! Landing gear deployed … take ‘er to the gate, boys. George Lopez, you keep circling up there while Jessica Alba refuels. Perhaps fittingly, there is a literal air-travel theme in Valentine’s Day, with Julia Roberts and Bradley Cooper flirting at 35,000 feet and Ashton Kutcher running barefoot through an airport. (What if all of the people who raced through airports on-screen—Kutcher, George Clooney in Up in the Air, O.J. in that car-rental ad—collided in a giant heap and just lay there, cursing and writhing?)

Hathaway and Grace do at least have some physical chemistry, and her phone-sex scenes are the only hint, in this hearts-and-flowers universe, that someone somewhere is thinking about getting it on. Contemplating the romantic prospects of Ashton Kutcher and Jennifer Garner, it’s hard to summon up a sentiment beyond the one muttered by my viewing companion: “Fine, mush your boring faces together already.”

Valentine’s Day, directed by the romantic-comedy veteran Garry Marshall (Pretty Woman, Runaway Bride) and written by Katherine Fugate, is firmly committed to the notion of economy of scale. What it lacks in charm, humor, and intelligence, it makes up for in sheer volume. Why settle for one high-schoolers-in-love subplot when you can cram in a second, starring Taylor Swift and Taylor Lautner as adorable airheads who serve no apparent narrative function? Why rely on one female character to provide the klutzy physical comedy when you can have three (the highly capable Anne Hathaway, the just-competent Jennifer Garner, and the intolerable Jessica Biel)? Marshall’s attempt to please every conceivable audience is like a 200-piece Whitman’s sampler. What’s the point of getting that much candy if you want to discard every piece after the first bite?

Carl Kozlowski at Big Hollywood:

I’m a sucker for good romantic comedies, and I even found some appeal in “Leap Year” despite its abundance of cliches. But I laughed so few times at “Valentine’s Day” that I actually took to keeping count, like a prisoner marking his days off in his cell. The end tally? I laughed out loud six (6) times in 125 minutes – five of those for one-liners, and one series of chuckles and maybe a guffaw in the one truly funny and spirited scene in the movie, which seemed to be an outtake from “American Pie” rather than a coherent part of this movie.

The entire movie, from scene one to closing credits, feels like a bad Lifetime TV movie – as if there’s such a thing as a good Lifetime movie. Well, lo and behold, the script (if you can call it that) is written by Katharine Fugate, the creator of that horrific network’s “Army Wives” series. The obvious question here is why would so many stars team up to make such a bland movie? And how so many people’s standards could be so low? Come on, Bradley Cooper just made one of the biggest comedies of all time with “The Hangover”! Did he have a lobotomy with that film’s paycheck?

The answer is, obviously, greed and laziness. All these people wanted to basically hang out for a couple days and be around the rest of the “cool kids” in Hollywood, while getting paid a few hundred thousand or a couple million each for what was likely at most three days’ work for each character. (That was another game I started playing to save my sanity – how few hours did each actor have to put into their roles?)

There are so many ways to show the person you love, or even dig, that you care for them this weekend. You can go to dinner, take a long walk in a pretty setting, sweep them off their feet dancing. Heck, you could even watch the Vancouver Olympics – because even without snow, that’s certain to be more exciting. But for the love of God and all that is holy, if you want your relationship to last, I suggest wholeheartedly that you steer clear of “Valentine’s Day.”

Jonah Goldberg at The Corner:

No I won’t be seeing it, unless some rogue CIA squad, acting on bad intel, mistakes me for an al-Qaeda sleeper agent, kidnaps me, and drags me to the theater on the assumption that exposure to the film is the fastest way to break me.

But, I am fascinated with the fundamental stupidity of films like this. They work on the assumption that super-successful, funny, kind, well-adjusted, and hot-as-magma women can’t find dates. I watched a clip on one of the talk shows where Jessica Biel — Queen of Planet Smoking Hot — is wigging out because no one will ask her out.

Meanwhile, these movies assume that absurdly handsome, super-sensitive rich and successful dudes,  who love their dogs and mothers, do carpentry for orphans in their spare time but who’re still manly enough to punch out jerks who threaten the honor of women, have a really hard time in the dating department, too.

Yes, I know movies are fantasies blah blah blah. But you wouldn’t cast a filipino midget in the role of Indiana Jones. And yet these movies cast beautiful people — I mean crazy, designed in an East German lab beautiful people — in roles that only make sense for the basically normal looking. In the play Frankie and Johnny, the female lead was played by Kathy Bates. In the movie, Michelle Pfeiffer got the role. And Pfeiffer couldn’t do better than an ex-con short-order cook in a low-rent diner.

Frankly, I find the plot of Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel more plausible.

Andrew O’Hehir at Salon:

Most of the gestures made at gags in “Valentine’s Day” fall amazingly flat, and feel as if they were retrieved from the reject drawer on one of Marshall’s vintage TV sitcoms, several decades back: High school students want lattes in their vending machines! Jews converse with nuns! Blondes are not that bright! Mexicans actually speak and understand Spanish! The movie is 125 minutes long — which is already wretched excess for a showman of Marshall’s experience — but it feels like hours or years or geological epochs. Generations of mice lived and died under the theater seats, spawning aspartame-poisoned new generations while I was watching this. Taylor Swift began the film as a teenage country-music superstar, and ended it by replacing Shirley MacLaine in the wizened-grandma role. Seriously.

No, that’s not true. That’s a lie I made up out of bitterness. What is true, though, is that Swift, a movie neophyte assigned the nothing role of a crazy-in-love high school airhead, is one of the few actors not wasted in “Valentine’s Day.” Her overgrown-pixie look and odd, widely set eyes lend her a little bit of Marilyn and a little bit of Lucille Ball: She’s Taylor-made for comic greatness! (I can’t believe I wrote that either. But if I am the first among Internets to supply that particular whore-quote, it will have been worth it.)

[...]

Taken as a whole, though, “Valentine’s Day” involves watching talented and attractive people squander their energies on a pointless and random exercise, which … hey! Wait a second! That’s an excellent description of what the real Valentine’s Day does to the rest of us (less talented and attractive though we may be). Maybe Marshall and Fugate are playing a deeper, trickier, more influenced-by-Godard game than I think. Except that if they were they might make better use of Ashton Kutcher, a renegade talent whose likable persona has overwhelmed his acting chops, at least thus far. (Catch David Mackenzie’s little-seen gigolo saga “Spread” for Kutcher’s best movie performance.)

In “Valentine’s Day” Kutcher plays a milquetoast florist named Reed, who pops the question to his scarily tan girlfriend (Jessica Alba) at daybreak on Valentine’s Day, thereby launching our City of Angels relationship round-robin. Alba’s spray-bronzed character says yes and pretty much disappears thereafter, leaving Reed to don a pink long-sleeve T-shirt and pink baseball cap and utter lines like, “Now I can be a sugary cheeseball mooning about love to total strangers all day long without people thinking I’m a moron. Because it’s Valentine’s Day!” Uh, yeah. About that moron thing? Let’s give that more thought.

It’s no wonder Alba packs her bags and gets her supernaturally hued hide out of Dodge, leaving Reed alone on the commercially mandated Feast Day of Romantic Love — alone, that is, except for his suspiciously hot but totally platonic “best friend” Julia (Jennifer Garner), whose boyfriend, slithery cardiac surgeon Patrick Dempsey, is supposedly out of town on this night of nights. I’m not saying that Kutcher’s character reads as gay, exactly, and I’m not saying that a female writer can’t do convincing guys. I am saying that both Reed and Julia seem like incompetent first drafts for human characters rather than the real thing, and that Marshall’s not a good enough director to pull more out of these actors than what’s on the page.

Dr. Cole Abaius at Film School Rejects:

Dear Garry Marshall,

Normally I would address an open letter like this to the mystical Whom It May Concern, but in this case I see fit to direct this missive to you. I say this for only one reason: you should know better.

As per my mother’s teachings, I’d like to open up this message with the good. There’ll be time for the bad and the ugly later, but for now, let’s talk about the unsinkable Jamie Foxx. Even in a terrible film, he still can’t be dragged down. He delivers some genuinely funny lines even if his storyline doesn’t really matter or make sense. There are, admittedly, even a few moments that work really well. Nothing sweet mind you, but still a few things that make for decent comedy.

And then there’s the other 120 minutes.

Speaking of which, I’d like to start by going over some simple math with you. You have 21 characters in this bad boy, and with 125 minutes of screen time (assuming that you pair them up), you end up with each story pair getting a whopping 11.9 minutes of screen time. You have a little less than 12 minutes to tell each story. It might have been fine – like a series of interwoven shorts – if the writing had been tight as a drum and the acting hadn’t spared a minute. But both spared everything.

I have to assume that you didn’t have anyone there to do this easy formula before the entire damned affair got started. No one on set with a Masters degree in mathematics or anyone who passed the crucial Different-Shaped-Blocks-Into-Different-Shaped-Holes Test. And that’s not your fault. It’s our school systems.

So let me see if I have the plot about right: A ton of people in Los Angeles wander around half-asleep on the screen saying ‘I Love You,’ kissing, breaking up, making up, getting angry, and sad or lonely and then the credits roll and everyone picks up their paycheck. Is that about right?

You’d expect me, perhaps, to rage at this point, but I let my anger subside while thinking about your film, and I realized that the honest reaction is one of pity and awe. The pity, because it’s obvious by the sheer volume of post-production, off-camera dialogue and side gags added that you knew you’d made a terrible film. At least someone did. And a Hail Mary clean-up job was called for. It didn’t work in the least, but at least someone tried, and it’s nice to know that the effort was there at the end despite its shocking lack of presence near the beginning.

Going back to math, I would have traded all twenty-one of those stars for two good actors. Hell, if you really wanted a challenge, do four main characters. Or six. But twenty-one? Ironically, I barely even noticed there were that many because their story lines were all basically the same.

As I said before, I’m in awe. You’ve achieved something incredible with this movie: you’ve managed to capture the spirit of Valentine’s Day in film form.

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