Valentine’s Day

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Reviewed by Tim Grierson

Though not without its likeable moments, director Garry Marshall’s ensemble romantic-comedy “Valentine’s Day” is ultimately too superficial and slick to really touch the heart. Following a collection of different Los Angeles residents over the course of one memorable Valentine’s Day, the film boasts a bevy of popular actors and actresses, but the more-is-more approach inevitably leads to simplistic characterizations and rushed emotional revelations. Date crowds looking for a breezy night out probably won’t mind, but considering the amount of bankable talent on the screen, it nonetheless seems a shame to waste them in this piffle.
Starting in the early morning and proceeding all the way to midnight, the story introduces us to seemingly disconnected Angelenos on Valentine’s Day as they individually confront their expectations about the romantic holiday. Florist Reed (Ashton Kutcher) proposes to his girlfriend Morley (Jessica Alba), who says yes but seems uncertain. Unlucky-in-love Julia (Jennifer Garner) thinks she has a good thing going with handsome doctor Harrison (Patrick Dempsey), but little does she know that he’s married with a family. Midwest transplant Jason (Topher Grace) has just hooked up with coworker Liz (Anne Hathaway), and while there seems to be plenty of mutual attraction, Liz is hiding an embarrassing secret: She makes extra money as a phone-sex operator.
But while some of the film’s characters are dealing with complicated relationships, others are trying to sort out their loneliness. Workaholic Kara (Jessica Biel) is planning her annual anti-Valentine’s Day party, but she’s scared that no one will come, signaling just how removed she is from her peers. Aspiring sportscaster Kelvin (Jamie Foxx) is annoyed that he has to spend the day doing puff pieces about Valentine’s Day, while aging football star Sean (Eric Dane) is contemplating retirement while realizing that sports glory hasn’t filled the void in his love life. All of these characters will bounce in and out of each other’s lives in unexpected ways over the course of the day.
Director Garry Marshall is known for churning out fluffy, broad comedies like “Pretty Woman,” “Runaway Bride” and “The Princess Dairies.” With that in mind, it’s foolish to expect much depth in his look at modern-day love with “Valentine’s Day.” If anything, the film is peddling the exact opposite of depth: Any real problems the characters face will most assuredly be brushed aside in the most pleasant way possible by movie’s end.
Still, Katherine Fugate’s screenplay (based on a story by Fugate and the writing team of Abby Kohn & Marc Silverstein) substitutes a myriad of character activity for actual insights into relationships. Several generations of love affairs are put on display in “Valentine’s Day” – from grade-school puppy love to 50-plus-year married couples – but the writing is almost uniformly shallow when it comes to portraying these different forms of commitment.
At over two hours, “Valentine’s Day” is noticeably longer than most romantic comedies, but the extra length doesn’t help flesh out these people. Instead, the filmmakers have to quickly introduce each character, dramatize his or her problem, and then find some sort of nifty resolution by the finale. Ensemble L.A. films are certainly nothing new after “Grand Canyon,” “Short Cuts,” “Magnolia,” and “Crash,” and they take a great deal of finesse to feel both authentic and substantial. But because “Valentine’s Day” is chiefly aiming for lightweight entertainment, Marshall’s film feels mostly like several back-to-back episodes of a sitcom.
Because the characters are mostly easy-to-digest types, the cast is left to its own devices, supplying as much charm and empathy as they can without much help from the script. Since the majority of the performers are playing roles that fit their persona, this doesn’t require much of a stretch for them, and so it’s interesting to see what the actors bring to the frivolous proceedings. As a military servicewoman heading home for one day, Julia Roberts supplies her usual movie-star radiance, although now in her 40s she doesn’t try so hard to be bubbly. Kutcher has made his name mostly playing goofballs, so his turn as the eternally optimistic Reed allows him to show some maturity for once. Other cast members are respectable, but whether it’s Hathaway’s ludicrous phone-sex worker or Foxx’s frustrated sportscaster, these are mostly slight sketches that the actors have to try to fill with their established on-screen personalities.
Ironically, Marshall’s portrait of Los Angeles is as glib as his look at love. “Valentine’s Day” tries to emphasize the city’s multicultural brio, but too often it resembles an impersonal snapshot of Southern California’s most recognizable tourist locations. Equally, the film spends a lot of time on scenes where characters debate the merits of love and its importance in our lives. But very few of these chats resonate, instead feeling like the typical lip service paid to a subject that’s so essential to human beings and yet so fraught with heartbreak and anxiety. In the end, that’s the greatest failing of “Valentine’s Day”: For a movie so focused on love, it never really sweeps you off your feet.

Jessica Alba (Morley)
Kathy Bates (Susan)
Jessica Biel (Kara)
Bradley Cooper (Holden)
Eric Dane (Sean)
Patrick Dempsey (Harrison)  
Hector Elizondo (Edgar)
Jamie Foxx (Kelvin)
Jennifer Garner (Julia)
Topher Grace (Jason)
Anne Hathaway (Liz)
Ashton Kutcher (Reed)
Queen Latifah (Paula)
Taylor Lautner (Willy)
George Lopez (Alphonso)
Shirley MacLaine (Estelle)
Emma Roberts (Grace)
Julia Roberts (Kate)
Taylor Swift (Felicia)  
New Line Cinema presents a Wayne Rice/Karz Entertainment production of a Garry Marshall film
Producers: Mike Karz, Wayne Rice
Executive Producers: Toby Emmerich, Samuel J. Brown, Michael Disco, Diana Pokorny, Josie Rosen
Director: Garry Marshall
Screenplay: Katherine Fugate (story by Katherine Fugate and Abby Kohn & Marc Silverstein)
Cinematography: Charles Minsky
Editor: Bruce Green
Music: John Debney
Production designer: Albert Brenner
Running time: 124 minutes

Reviewed February 9, 2010