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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Valentine’s Day (review)

A Touch of VD

Sadly — as a lonely, pathetic, loveless, feminazi hater of men, romance, puppies, and everything light and fluffy and wonderful and good in the world — I have seen 98.7 percent of all Hollywood romantic comedies (perhaps in an effort to cure myself? my team of analysts has not yet come to a consensus on this). Which means I’d already seen Valentine’s Day before I saw it. Perhaps screenwriter Katherine Fugate and director Garry Marshall should be honored for discovering some heretofore undiscovered realm of quantum physics regarding Mobius wormholes that allow people to see movies before they’ve seen them. But that’s about the extent of the praise that should be heaped upon them.
My big beef with studio rom-coms is that they typically have no idea what to do with themselves: They posit a couple that is clearly destined to be together while simultaneously needing to keep them apart for at least 90 minutes, so they throw all manner of preposterous obstacles at them. Because, as everyone knows, the barriers to true love for most people aren’t things like their own hangups or mismatches in availability between potential couples or overwork or a simple lack of likely prospects — the barriers are always the fact that your long-lost cousin just turned up to tell you that she’s about to marry a guy next week in Paris and you absolutely must be a bridesmaid, and then the groom turns out to be the college sweetheart you thought was dead but suddenly turned up with amnesia and you just can’t bear to break your cousin’s heart in Paris, even though it later turns out you shouldn’t have worried at all because your cousin will get over her broken heart really quickly thanks to Jean-Luc, the cute French wedding caterer.

I hate all that forced shit. And I guess Fugate does too, because she just eliminates it all. She cuts right from “OMG I just totally know that Handsome Young Buff Stud and Sexy Hot Scantily Dressed Thang have to end up together, they’re so totally adorable! *squee*!” to them actually ending up together. And so why isn’t Valentine’s Day only 10 minutes long? Because — and here’s the evil genius part — she threw in 187 such couples. All in the same movie. And they’re running around Los Angeles on Valentine’s Day missing connections and moaning about their relationships and generally behaving as annoyingly unconvincing caricatures of real people in love, or not in love, and spouting whatever fortune-cookie wisdom they have to offer on their conditions.

It’s like being force-fed, all in one sitting, an entire box of cheap-shit heart-shaped chocolates from the dollar store.

Rom-coms are inevitably masses of clichés, but when it’s 187 gloopy, mechanical Hollywood rom-coms all rolled together, the pain is intense. What do you think will happen with Anne Hathaway’s (Bride Wars, Becoming Jane) phone-sex entertainer (who’s so stupid she takes these calls on an office phone where anyone could overhear from the next cubicle and, perhaps worse, she has to cut off her paying customers when her boss comes by! that’s no way to build a business) when her new boyfriend, Topher Grace’s (Spider-Man 3, In Good Company) immature, naive little boy (a character the 30something Grace is waaay too old to pull off), finds out about her sideline? What do you think will happen to Jennifer Garner’s (The Invention of Lying, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past) schoolteacher and Ashton Kutcher’s (Open Season, The Guardian) florist, bestest platonic friends ever, when both of their romantic relationships fall apart on Valentine’s Day?

We girls should know, by the way, that by this point, if you’re in a romantic comedy, and you’re praising your new boyfriend for being a real grownup, a real man, he’s a lying scummy married jerk. It’s like being a cop in an action movie who’s retiring next week and just bought a boat: Dude, you’re gonna die in second act.

The unsuprisingly scummy jerk boyfriend — are you stunned to learn that he’s played by Patrick Dempsey (Made of Honor, Enchanted)? and that he’s a heart surgeon? — is VD’s idea of drama. Its idea of wit: having Taylor Lautner (New Moon, Cheaper by the Dozen 2), who serially appears shirtless in public, say, “I’m a little uncomfortable taking my shirt off in public.” Also: the notion that the only people who hate Valentine’s Day are either lonely misfits or commitment phobes. (It’s funny because everyone secretly wants to conform!) And not because Valentine’s Day is prepackaged commercial crap… just like this movie!

But ohmagosh, Bradley Cooper (All About Steve, The Hangover) and Julia Roberts (Duplicity, Charlie Wilson’s War) are so totally adorable together!

VD — it’s sort of perfect that the film’s title can be abbreviated as VD — also thinks it’s being clever and “suspenseful” in how it acknowledges, rather grudgingly and as if it’s keeping it a secret, that not all love worth celebrating is of the romantic and sexual kind, and that not all romantic and sexual love is of the heterosexual kind. The movie does this by walling off those characters it finds to be daringly “unconventional” and treating their lives as something surprising, instead of allowing itself to embrace them full on. These characters might have had something interesting to say, and their lives might have been the stuff of a fresh take on love, but VD doesn’t dare do more than poke tentatively at them, lest the tedious “norms” it is otherwise regurgitating see any real challenge.

Kudos, perhaps, should go to Fugate and Marshall (Georgia Rule, The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement) for updating a hoary cliché: the ol’ “running to catch the train before it leaves the platform and takes the person you just realized you can’t live without out of your life forever.” They turn the “Homeland Security felony at the airport” into the grandest expression of Teh Romance. We all know that, in real life, the lovesick Handsome Young Buff Stud would end up behind bars and the airport would be shut down for hours while everyone was rescreened, and maybe a real romance would blossom between delayed travelers as they queue up again to be Constitutionally violated again. There’s a premise for a potentially funny romantic black comedy. And Hollywood can have it for free.


MPAA: rated PG-13 for some sexual material and brief partial nudity

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine
  • Knightgee

    But ohmagosh, Bradley Cooper (All About Steve, The Hangover) and Julia Roberts (Duplicity, Charlie Wilson’s War) are so totally adorable together!

    Let me just say, I know how that particular tangent ends and that just makes the movie even worse in my opinion.

  • JoshDM

    skip it

    Why am I not surprised?

    Probably because I saw a clip of this cinematic abortion on a talk show.

  • JoshDM

    We girls should know, by the way, that by this point, if you’re in a romantic comedy, and your praising your new boyfriend for being a real grownup,

    FOR SHAME!!!

  • Tessy

    You should write a movie script for that idea at the end. Seriously, I would go see that.

  • MaryAnn

    FOR SHAME!!!

    Geez, make one typo once in a while…

  • Leni

    As soon as I saw the trailer for this barfest, I knew two things; a) it’s a rip-off – and a very badly done one from what the critics are saying – of Love Actually and b) there is no way in this sweet world I would ever go see this.

    I don’t understand why Hollywood keeps making these cliched, overly sugary, stereotypical romantic-romedies? It really is insulting to women, but also to men and relationships in general, because it’s just a cliche and has nothing smart to say about relationship. Lastly, why would any actor or actress in their right mind be willing to star in this? Yes, I know, besides money, because they get a lot of money for little work, but is it worth losing respect from the critics?

  • MaryAnn

    I don’t understand why Hollywood keeps making these cliched, overly sugary, stereotypical romantic-romedies?

    Because this movie is gonna make $40 million this weekend. That’s why. And the stars don’t give a shit what the critics think.

  • Paul

    But that’s a lot of actor pay to split 274 ways.

  • Knightgee

    @Paul: Given that they each probably only appear for roughly 15 minutes total in the overall film, it’s not as if they’re being paid for a full movie, more like for cameo roles. That really would seem to be a good description of this movie: 1oo cameos from A and B-list actors for 2 hours.

  • Joan

    @Knightgee- you’re not wrong. I keep seeing reviewers comment on their plot line and, not having seen it but well-spoiled for it, I just can’t get past the the, “Wait, what?” factor.

  • JoshDM

    Geez, make one typo once in a while…

    pet peeve + failed use of apostrophe when you’re using it everywhere else = SHAAAAAAMMMMMEEEEEE!

  • deering

    “We all know that, in real life, the lovesick Handsome Young Buff Stud would end up behind bars and the airport would be shut down for hours while everyone was rescreened, and maybe a real romance would blossom between delayed travelers as they queue up again to be Constitutionally violated again. There’s a premise for a potentially funny romantic black comedy.”

    Hee–wasn’t that RED EYE, which for all the world looked like a bad rom-com from the start, but wickedly turned this kind of crap on its head. ;)

  • misterb

    Four words:

    Anna Howard Shaw Day

  • JoshDM

    Four words:

    Anna Howard Shaw Day

    HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY, NO ONE!

  • Just stumbled into this site! I review films too, but didn’t do Valentines Day as it coincided with Chinese New Year, which meant no Sunday paper here… so I get to read other people’s reviews with abandon!! Yay!

    Fun perspective. I really did enjoy Bradley/Julia’s segment. I think VD did what it said on the tin, pretty forgettable. Taylor Lautner said that line with such uncertainty as if he couldn’t handle lying.

    The romcom is basically a paint by numbers deal… they’re perfect to watch at home when I’m doing something else, or want to gossip with a girlfriend in front of a DVD.

    AND OH MY GOD you wrote the guide to the Princess Bride!!! That’s been in my Amazon basket for ages. Best film ever.

    [And also? To the grammar nazis… I really don’t get this calling out of typos all the time! And I subedit a newspaper! It’s really tedious to point it out… especially for things the writer definitely knows anyway!]

  • JoshDM
  • Dan Fabulous <3

    I agree with 99% of this review.

    On top of being a male feminist; I too am lonely, pathetic, loveless, and a hater of all that is light and fluffy…

    But puppies?! I loves me some wittle puppies! :(

    It’s okay though, I forgive you MaryAnn.
    We’re totally going to get married, hate men together, and HAVE PUPPIES. You’ll see.

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