The tradition of love stories that cross the divide of life, death and the space in between is continued with the new film staring Reese Witherspoon, Just Like Heaven. The concept of an otherworldly love story seems weird but comes off sweet, due in large part to an energetic performance from Witherspoon.
Heaven follows the story of Elizabeth (Witherspoon), a young doctor striving for residency at a San Francisco hospital. Just as Elizabeth achieves her goal at the hospital, fate sends her a direct hit in the form of a head-on collision with a semi-truck.
Enter David (Mark Ruffalo), the new tenant in Elizabeth’s apartment. As he settles into his new place, Elizabeth begins to appear to him at various times as a spirit, angry with him because he is in her apartment, sleeping in her bed and not using a coaster.
David tries different things to get rid of Elizabeth’s spirit, buying books at a supernatural bookstore with the help of the store clerk, Darryl (Jon Heder of Napoleon Dynamite fame).
Upon a visit to David’s apartment, Darryl can feel Elizabeth’s presence strongly, telling David her spirit is “one of the most alive spirits” he has ever felt. Hearing this news, David and Elizabeth search to find out who she is and what happened to her.
This is where losing yourself in the Hollywood magic of make-believe comes into play. Elizabeth can remember there is a Nordstrom’s receipt in her drawer, but she can’t remember who she is or what she does for a living. The two characters fall in love in a span of mere days; however, one of them can walk through walls and the other is a flesh-and-blood human being.
Moments of comedy help these details fade into the background. Concerned about his excessive drinking, Elizabeth pulls a Ghost-like move, jumping into David’s body and forcing the drink out of his hand. She pushes him back and forth into walls and then out of the bar, making him appear to be already intoxicated.
Witherspoon shines in the movie, capturing Elizabeth’s compulsive behaviors in a way that makes them sweet, not annoying. She makes the viewer forget all the unbelievable details and delivers the few cheesy lines she has in a way that makes them seem not as cheesy.
Ruffalo, on the other hand, has some catching up to do.
To his credit, the lines are the problem in his scenes as they dredge up tired, old cliches. His delivery of the lines highlights their tiredness instead of bringing life to them, as Witherspoon does.
When the two are carrying equal weight in a scene, the viewer is rewarded with the chance to see great on-screen chemistry between the pair. They aren’t Julia Roberts and Richard Gere, but they make for a cute enough on-screen couple to watch.
During their shared scenes, Witherspoon brings out the best in Ruffalo, reflecting her natural talent. Their on-screen kiss leaves much to be desired, though; more energy is felt from the scenes in which the two try to touch hands yet cannot really feel each other.
A modern-day fable, Just Like Heaven is perfect for those who cheer for happy endings and believe that love knows no bounds.
Rating: B+ Comedy, PG-13, Running time: 95 min.