Valentine’s Day

Posted on May 18, 2010 at 8:00 am

Ladies and gentlemen, let the record show that the Twitter movie has arrived.

“Valentine’s Day” consists of a bunch of incidents and concepts and indications that in our omni-media world are taken for stories, though all of them would fit within Twitter’s 140-character limit. And it would take less time to list the people who are not in this movie than the people who are. The opening credits, with one name at a time, threaten to continue for the first hour of the movie. I’ll save time with this summary: just about anyone in Hollywood who has ever been described as cute or adorable is in the cast, with a full complement of Jennifers plus a Jessica, a Julia, a couple of Taylors, four Oscar winners, and a Queen.

Love, Actually-style — or, actually, Love American Style-style, this is a bouquet of skits that are variations on the themes of love — old, new, familiar, surprising, poignant, frustrating, and joyous. I do not use the terms “deep” or “unpredictable” or “witty.” Like a dime store box of valentine chocolates, it is not fancy, and some of the ingredients may not be ideal, but they are still tasty.

At the heart of the story is Ashton Kutcher as Reed, an idealistic and kind-hearted florist who starts off Valentine’s Day by proposing to his career-focused girlfriend (Jessica Alba) and is overjoyed when she agrees. As he goes on through his busiest day of the year, taking orders and making deliveries, he encounters many of the other characters observing the holiday in their own ways. A young boy needs flowers for the most beautiful girl in school. A doctor needs flowers for both his wife and his girlfriend.

Also — a teacher (Jennifer Garner) decides to surprise her boyfriend by flying out to see him. A young man newly in love and an older man married for decades must cope with disappointing revelations. A football player (Eric Dane) and a sportscaster (Jamie Foxx) think about what they are missing by being alone as a publicist (Jessica Biel) wonders if anyone is coming to her annual “I Hate Valentine’s Day” party with its ceremonial bashing of a heart-shaped pinata. A young couple finds that no matter how carefully they have planned their first sexual encounter, they cannot anticipate every problem. And a US Army captain (Julie Roberts) and a businessman (Bradley Cooper) seated next to each other on a 14-hour flight, talk about life and love and how precious the time we spend with those we love can be.

Some of the segments work better than others and a few sour moments intrude when the movie wants us as well as its characters to shrug off certain choices that to my mind are unsettling. The revenge of a woman who was cheated on is more creepy than vindicating. And I thought I made this clear, people: NO MORE RACING THROUGH AIRPORT SCENES IN ROMANTIC COMEDIES.

Director Garry Marshall keeps things moving so that by the time you realize one story is not working very well we are on to the next. He tosses in many bits of pop songs throughout just to make sure we don’t miss anything (the first-time couple drives off to “Feels Like the First Time,” get it?). There are too many participants for the performances to be anything but competent, though it gets some energy from sheer star power, especially from Julia Roberts, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Garner, Topher Grace, Anne Hathaway, and Marshall perennial good luck charm Hector Elizondo. Taylor Swift clearly has some fun as half of a high school couple believably described as “full of promise, full of hope, ignorant of reality.” Distracting winks at the audience (Taylor Lautner’s character says he is uncomfortable taking his shirt off in public, we see a poster for Love, Actually, and in the closing credit sequence Roberts reprises some dialogue from the movie she made with Marshall, “Pretty Woman”), however, are just about always an acknowledgment that the movie needs some artificial stimulants to keep the audience feeling entertained. But watching pretty people fall in and out of love is not a bad way to spend a winter evening and there is so much going on that at least one relationship will touch just about anyone.

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19 Replies to “Valentine’s Day”

  1. Hi Nell–
    Besides being spectacularly lazy from a screenwriter standpoint, there was one aspect of Valentine’s Day that really bugged me. I was curious about your opinion on the topic. In the interest of time, I have copy-and-pasted a snippet from my review:
    The precious few minority characters, from Reed’s Latino coworker Alphonso (George Lopez) to African-Americans Kelvin and Paula, are either handed extras as love interests or are all but stripped of their own sexual orientation in order to make room for the conflicts of all the whiteys in the cast. Even more offensive than that is Marshall’s inappropriate, strained, and faux-sincere attempts at political correctness, tossing in a little people couple in one shot who wordlessly walk out of the flower shop together, never to be seen again, and a severely handicapped child in a scene set at an airport that is downright skin-crawling in its blatant exploitation. As for the film’s one same-sex liaison, it is used as a third-act plot twist rather than treated as an organic relationship running throughout the narrative. For this, Marshall demonstrates his own lack of acceptance of homosexuality, forcing it to serve as a punchline rather than a venerable storyline worthy of attention. Indeed, he might as well have topped things off with a lisp and a lot of animated hand-waving.
    See you soon!

  2. I have a major problem with Movie Mom giving this movie a “B”. What about the young couple planning their first sexual encounter, the trailers that show many out of marriage sexual encounters, and much more. Doesn’t look like Movie Mom is looking out for the parents who look to Belief Net.

  3. Hi, Stacy! The grade is not for family-friendliness but for the overall merits of the film for its intended audience. As you see, I recommend it for mature teens-adults and I make it clear in my parental advisory what the content of the film is so that each family can make the decision that is right for them. I believe providing parents with the information they need to make an informed decision based on their values and their children is a better way for me to be helpful than to try to impose one set of recommendations on everyone.
    The young couple planning their first sexual encounter, by the way, make a very thoughtful and mature decision to wait. And the movie comes down strongly in favor of long-term, committed, honest relationships. So I am comfortable with my rating, which is based on the film and not, as your assessment is, on the trailer.

  4. Thanks for a thoughtful comment, Dustin! I did think the cast could have been more diverse. But keep in mind that Jessica Alba is of mixed race (Mexican father), that George Lopez and his wife had one of the strongest and healthiest relationships in the movie, and that there was a nicely understated portrayal of an inter-racial romance (Kelvin’s was no more an extra than Kara’s). I have to disagree with you about the portrayal of the gay characters, who were as far from being stereotyped as could be. SPOILER ALERT — to have a pro football player declare a press conference to come out and have his love interest be one of the top male sex symbols in movies today is to my mind the opposite of a stereotype — and to my mind it was as organic as any of the other threads in this episodic story. I did not think it was a punchline. Given what we had seen of the characters along the way, I found it moving and it made me question some of my assumptions about what had gone on before. See you next week!

  5. Nell- Could you clarify a point for me please ? I noticed at the top of the review in the “MPAA” section it mentions brief partial nudity. However, in your review you mention that there is implied nudity but none shown. I may be missing the point somehow but it doesn’t seem to make sense to me. Which is it and why are they different ? I appreciate any help you can give me with this. Thanks

  6. Hi, Tim — a young man undresses in the film but he straps on his guitar, which covers his mid-section and nothing is revealed that you would not see at the beach. For that reason, I call it “implied nudity.”

  7. A fair, and thorough review. The film has enough going for it that you wish they would have snipped away the less successful subplots. (Sorry Taylor and Taylor).
    Garner remains an adorable rom-com actress – why isn’t she getting more leading roles? And while I normally find Kutcher grating he’s very engaging here.
    Also bravo to George Lopez, who appears relaxed, in control and very wise in his brief moments on screen.

  8. This movies conatins a range of blashpemy and other profanity, homosexuality and two cases of adultery.

  9. Thank you, Michael. This will be helpful guidance. However, it is important to point out that the adultery is in no way condoned by the film; on the contrary, it causes deep grief. The language is typical for a PG-13. I was very pleased with the supportive and non-stereotyped portrayal of the gay characters.

  10. Thanks, Christian! I could have done with less of some characters and more of others, including Garner. I agree with you that she is terrific — a superb actress with real star power. She made the most of that scene in the restaurant, which I thought was poorly written. And I loved the way she handled the baseball bat!

  11. I am laughing at Michael, too. Talking about making mountains out of molehills. I certainly hope he is joking but I suspect he is not. Luddite applies perfectly.
    A quick note to Neil: The severly handicapped girl in the airport scene is Garry Marshall’s granddaughter. Rest assured he did not go on a hunt for such a person. He is famous for his nepotism and he loves his family. Is that a problem?

  12. We try to refrain from laughing at any of the posters here; this is a safe place for a wide variety of movie-goers and others interested in popular culture to express their opinions and concerns. I am sure that Michael is sincere and hopes to protect those who might or should be offended by the film. I try to be tolerant of everything but intolerance or discourtesy.
    Thanks, Ha Ha, for letting us know about Garry Marshall’s grand-daughter. I only wish he had thought to include a disabled character — or, better yet, a disabled actor — in the movie’s major story lines, and without the disability being the main identifying characteristic or plot line. I hope that will be the next breakthrough in diversity.

  13. I gotcha, Neil. I guess it was a bit of a flame and I am sorry for that. As an aside, I’d say most of the actors in Valentine’s Day are disabled…at least as actors. 😉 Clearly, I am goofing but you bring up an interesting thought. I wonder if there are many disabled actors, say apart from Marlee Matlin, Michael J Fox, or Corky from Life Goes On?? I’d like to see your idea on screen as well.

  14. Thanks for your good humor, Ha Ha, and I welcome you comments. (It’s Nell, not Neil, though — I am the Movie Mom, not the movie Dad!) And thanks for the suggestion about disabled actors. A few more: Phyllis Frelich, Linda Bove, Peter Dinklage, Deanne Bray, Kitty McGeever.

  15. Hi Movie Mom!
    Wanted to correct one thing and point out another. Julia Roberts plays an Army Captain, She explains that on the plane and also wears 2 bars on her chest. And here’s a major blunder that I don’t see any sites posting on yet: when on the plane still dressed in uniform, Julia Roberts is dressed in ACU’s (All Camou Uniform) but has earrings in her ears. This is not allowed in ACU’s in the US Army, it is in the Airforce, but not Army. I’m Surprised that they did not catch this when filming this movie.
    Great Blog!!
    Veteran, US Army

  16. I love this comment, Kelly! I am always delighted when people share their expertise to help us see those details that are clear to those who really know. My daughter is a costume designer, and she is very picky about exactly those details. I’ll make sure she sees this so she will avoid that mistake.
    Thanks for writing, and for your service on behalf of our country. This Memorial Day weekend in particular, it is especially meaningful to be able to tell you how deeply we honor your commitment and sacrifice.

  17. Hi movie mom, was reading your blog and came across the comment left by Kelly who claims to be a retired soldier
    But explains what acu stands fir incorrectly. It means Army Combat Uniform! Lol
    Ok but Kelly was right in stating that we do not wear earrings while in combat uniforms, just our dress uniforms such as out ASU’s. Army Service Uniform which is the new and improved dress blues.
    U. S. Army, active duty

  18. Thanks very much, Ziva, for this clarification and for your service in defense of our freedom. Glad to have you visit and comment.

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