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‘Valentine’s Day’ suffers from ensemble casting

By Staff | Feb 23, 2010

Often, I have similar opinions with critics on romantic comedy, but on “Valentine’s Day,” I have to dissent on some’s harshness. Yes, Garry (“Laverne & Shirley,” “Happy Days”) Marshall has a situation comedy TV pedigree and a resume of stellar romantic comedies  (“Pretty Woman”) and some films with a poignant, serious touch (“Other Sister”).

Notably, “Valentine’s Day” does not rank at the top of his list. It’s not near the bottom either.

I agree that the film has too many plot lines (10, 11, 12?); many comparable to the cliche vignettes of an all-star, overloaded ’70s disaster film (i.e. “Towering Inferno,” “Earthquake,” “Poseidon Adventure”), not character-driven, excellent ensemble-casting, which would accent the star studded talent list. The filmmakers could have ushered greater empathy for one or two favorite characters (couples) by limiting their number and similarly overlapping Cupid Day outcomes (be they happy, inconclusive or broken hearted).

Like the “disaster” genre, the overabundance of stars/characters leaves some lost in the shuffle, some dangling over a pit of incompleteness (although in romance that is often normal), and others emotionally adjusting too rapidly to circumstances.

By contrast, the film avoids jutting and ragged segues by trying roses around the common denominator — the florist shop — and fulfilling Valentine’s Day orders that at least loosely link the large set of customers.

I don’t think that a severe limitation on the numbers would improve the flick. I don’t think it should be shorter, which would remove the imperfect reality/screwball blending. Still, if you maintain the large cast, perhaps, it should enter the ‘epic’ length of a disaster film (no more than three hours), only with bleeding heart romantic comedy? No, not a three or four hour epic, but, I suspect that the editing room floor contained some additional scenes with the minor and inevitably ‘lost’ characters (technically “resolved” in a split second or two final look see).  I’d like to see whether emotions yielded a “Crash” style intensity for at least a subset of them.

Notably, I heard several audience members (women, naturally) render a short, favorable, buzzword of criticism exiting the theatre: AWESOME.

That’s too high a grade, but “Valentine’s Day” is not a failure either. I like the description that in the tepid, stormy, hit and miss, often uncomfortable challenge of searching for romance, it’s like a game of Russian Roulette, particularly when sights are set on long term love, not short term sex (the closer to commitment, the more times the players pull the trigger to see if they continue to have chemistry).

Having selected representatives of generations (even a fifth grader with a teacher crush), the unconditional accept me for what I am — a message of which the director has the capability of stating with tears in your eyes and chills down you back — escapes instead of gushes. It’s just one of several lessons of love; a viewer’s buffet of pick a couple and identify with that which fits your life best.

Ashton Kutcher (as the florist) has proposed to his hot live-in (Jessica Alba), but her ‘yes’ proves problematic, leading him to long-time friend/companion primary school teacher, Julia (Jennifer Garner), who’s fallen head over heels for a married heart surgeon. Garner and Kutcher arguably display the most cherished (and fragile) of all relationships — that of opposite sex friends on the verge of ‘lovers.’ The catalyst for this odyssey occurs when the ‘doc’ comes to the shop and orders flowers for both his wife and Julia. I liked that despite his own bleeding heart, he feels responsible for looking out for his ‘friend’ and a married male friend helps him discover what he has been suppressing — his love for Julie.

Anne Hathaway, the receptionist doubling as an adult mobile phone entertainment specialist, dating a conservative mail room clerk (Topher Grace) from Indiana, has less screen time than the convoluted Kutcher scenario, but kindles the most smiles, laughs, and hugs.

The soldier on a plane (Julia Roberts) sequence has the most irony and surprises. First, it’s the former pretty woman in a drab soldier outfit, her in-flight bathroom change glamorization, and, a twist for resolution.

V-Day, as lose your virginity day, works in part. Generally, the high school assemblage of younger characters falter with the exception of preparations for a lunch hour first time tryst (interrupted).

Can’t rave about the outcomes, especially, with this lovey dovey cast that has 14 Oscar nominations total and four wins (all for acting). For as I said before the sheer volume of cast members dilutes emotions evoked from any one performance. Further, by not embracing totally quirky couples in favor of more ‘realistic’ ones, the director tosses any chance of the “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World” fastidious screwball all-star breeze in favor of sweetness, paybacks, and, at least, it’s over to next year feelings.

I’ve left out several essential characters whose existence tie the threads of coincidence congruence, but most of these have too much heaviness (a football pro outing himself at a news conference) for skip around ensemble presentation.

(Note: Want to see the film, but are cured in singlehood? Go alone, just take a notebook. If someone looks at you oddly, pretend you’re a critic, ask THEIR opinion of the film.)

Contact Tony at trutherford@graffitiwv.com