It’s always a worrisome proposition when an upcoming film touts nothing but its cast. Granted, Valentine’s Day has a doozy of a cast; probably the biggest ensemble in years. While the credits are impressive, the film is very mediocre. Trying desperately to be the next Love Actually (possibly the best romantic comedy I’ve ever seen), Valentine’s Day gets lost in its own intertwining stories and offers very few characters to really care about. Some heartwarming moments do spring up here and there, but this more of a cinematic red carpet for current Hollywood talent than an actual movie.
Taking place all in one day, Valentine’s Day to the late person, the film tells the story of couples and singles as they try to survive or enjoy the day. We have the madly-in-love florist (Ashton Kutcher), the lonely publicist (Jessica Biel), the teacher who can’t find love (Jennifer Garner), the misunderstood phone sex operator (Anne Hathaway), the old couple who still have love (Hector Elizondo and Shirley MacLaine), and the young couple who think they have love (Taylor Lautner and Taylor Swift). There are even more characters, and they all find themselves relating in some fashion by the film’s end.
Director Garry Marshall, who’s been coasting on the success of Pretty Woman for two decades now, certainly means well by trying to make an “event movie” for the rom-com genre, but this picture seriously lacks focus. Katherine Fugate’s script sets up some initially-intriguing characters and situations, but by the second act it becomes apparent that none of it is going anywhere new or particularly interesting. Only Topher Grace and Anne Hathaway, as a mismatched would-be couple, have any chemistry. Everyone else appears to be in it for the easiest paycheck of their lives.
The comparisons to Love Actually, right down the poster artwork, are many. It is the benchmark for the genre and it’s consistently amazing how many subsequent films have botched what it made it so great: you became attached to each and every character. That film did not go for the cheap reaction; it earned its emotional payoffs. Valentine’s Day has multiple opportunities to the get the viewer involved from an emotional standpoint, but each time it chooses the easy way out, be it a lame attempt at comedy or a thoroughly-tested genre cliché.
As disposable as the whole thing is, it’s not a huge chore to sit through and is certainly preferential to trash like When in Rome. What we have here is a blown opportunity, but a sequel of sorts has already been green-lit and this won’t be the last we hear from the red carpet rom-com. Perhaps the makers of the sequel can get started on a traditional film study of Love Actually and crib the parts that made it work so well.
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
Length: 125 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for some sexual material and brief partial nudity.
Theatrical Release: February 12, 2010
Directed by: Katherine Fugate
Written by: Garry Marshall
Cast: Jessica Alba, Kathy Bates, Jessica Biel, Bradley Cooper, Eric Dane