By Don Simpson | February 12, 2010
Director: Garry Marshall
Writer(s): Katherine Fugate, Abby Kohn, Marc Silverstein (story), Katherine Fugate (screenplay)
Starring: Jessica Alba, Jessica Biel, Bradley Cooper, Ashton Kutcher, Julia Roberts, Jamie Foxx, Anne Hathaway, Shirley MacLaine, Hector Elizondo, Jennifer Garner, Patrick Dempsey, Eric Dane, Emma Roberts, Taylor Swift, Taylor Lautner, Queen Latifah, Topher Grace, Carter Jenkins, George Lopez
Thanks to the endless list of characters and there being very little plot to speak of (people are in love, then they are not, then they are in love again), writing a brief synopsis of Valentine’s Day is all but impossible. Nonetheless, I will try my best!
Reed (Ashton Kutcher) owns a flower shop in Los Angeles. It is Valentine’s Day morning and his much too perfect girlfriend, Morley (Jessica Alba), just accepted his proposal for marriage. Julia (Jennifer Garner) – Reed’s loyal best friend (or is his loyal best friend Alphonso – played by George Lopez – his older Hispanic employee…) – has finally met the man of her dreams, Dr. Harrison Copeland (Patrick Dempsey); but much to Julia’s dismay the good doctor has other plans for Valentine’s Day. Julia’s only option for the evening is to celebrate at Kara’s (Jessica Biel) annual anti-Valentine’s Day party.
Elsewhere in L.A. – Jason (Topher Grace) wakes up in bed with his poet/phone sex operator girlfriend of only a few weeks, Liz (Anne Hathaway), taking candid Polaroid snapshots of him after having successfully consummated their relationship the night before. It is worth noting that upon our introduction to them, Jason and Liz are the only two characters that seem oblivious to the fact that it is Valentine’s Day.
And then there is Sean (Eric Dane) – his football career is suddenly in question despite a successful season, which means his agent Paula (Queen Latifah) and publicist (the aforementioned Kara) have some work cut out for them. On a somewhat related topic, Local TV sportscaster Kelvin (Jamie Foxx) is forced to spend the day as a “man on the street” reporting on love thanks to his heartless boss Susan (Kathy Bates). Kelvin is hoping to redeem his hellish day with an exclusive interview with Sean.
There are a couple seniors (citizens, that is) – Estelle (Shirley MacLaine) and Edgar (Hector Elizondo). From all accounts, they appear to be a retired Hollywood couple (Estelle was a famous actress in her prime) who are apparently the sole custodians of the youngest of the primary characters, their love-sick 10-year old grandson Edison (Bryce Robinson). The aforementioned Julia is Edison’s teacher. Each day after high school, Grace (Emma Roberts) takes care of Edison. Grace and her high school sweetheart Alex (Carter Jenkins) plan to spend their lunch break today losing their virginity (do not fret, the film assures that we know that they are both 18-years old) as we are privileged to the soundtrack of Foreigner’s “It Feels Like the First Time”; while their goofy classmates Felicia (Taylor Swift) and Willy (Taylor Lautner) would rather wait for their first time. (If we were not specifically told that they were waiting, we would assume that Felicia and Willy have already done it – they ooze with sex and irresponsibility.)
Last but not least – a story that does not seem to belong with the rest of this movie – flying the friendly skies on an 18-hour flight bound for L.A. are row-mates Holden (Bradley Cooper) and Kate (Julia Roberts). Assumptions about the other’s lover are made, but neither one of them seems to have a drop of romance in their body.
Despite the preponderance of heterosexual love – there is one homosexual relationship cleverly hiding in the mix (the film goes to great lengths to hide this one), which by proxy turns out to be the only unpredictable reveal. Otherwise, I found Valentine’s Day to be so stereotypical that I was able to flawlessly determine how each character’s storyline would end within minutes of their introduction. Being that this is Hollywood (both literally and figuratively), it is by no means a spoiler to say that 95% of the characters live happily ever after (and the other 5% deserved their solitary fate).
With at least 15 high profile actors sharing primary roles (I use the word “primary” very loosely, since it seems as though only Kutcher and Garner possess more than 10 minutes of screen time) with countless other lower profile talent, this ensemble was destined to be a plotless and directionless mess from its inception. Truth be told, Robert Altman seems to be one of the only directors in the history of cinema able to succeed in wrangling so many egos and juggling so many characters, all the while establishing an intelligent and cohesive narrative. Unfortunately, director Garry Marshall is not up for the task at hand – but not being able to succeed in doing the impossible is by no means his fault.
In some ways, Valentine’s Day seems like an Americanized version of the British Love Actually (which takes place during the Christmas season). There are actually multiple parallels (to avoid revealing any spoilers, I will refrain from specifying them except for stating that the Edison character is eerily similar to the young boy in Love Actually); but where Love Actually develops interesting characters intertwined in a cohesive and entertaining plot, Valentine’s Day does nothing, nada, zilch.
That is not to say that there are not some clever bits. Willy’s comment to Felicia that he would be embarrassed to take his shirt off in public is the funniest moment (especially since it seemed like a majority of the female audience was drooling and purring at the mere prospect of Lautner revealing his six-pack). Swift’s debut performance – an absurd no holds barred foray into silly crazy zaniness – left me wondering what I just saw. (Was that genius, madness or confusion?)
Valentine’s Day would have worked perfectly well if it narrowed its focus on Kutcher, Garner, Grace and Hathaway (with Alba and Dempsey in supporting roles) – their characters were the true heart of Valentine’s Day; but unfortunately that heart was trampled under the feet of the other 25-odd main characters, especially with the lackluster attempt to juggle a tweenie rom-com (with Swift, Lautner, Roberts and Jenkins) along with it. It seems Marshall was attempting to appeal to all audience demographics simultaneously. (A majority of the young teens at the screening I attended were bored and playing on their i-phones, impatiently awaiting Swift and Lautner’s next onscreen appearance.)
In order to truly enjoy Valentine’s Day, you must remember that everything in it is artificial (except for the flowers). Marshall relies heavily on the crutch that the setting of Los Angeles is the virtual representation of artifice and superficiality; on another level, this is a Hollywood movie and – logic be damned – anything goes in Hollywood! (Like Kutcher’s scene at the airport could have ever happened in this post 9/11 world…)
With that I will leave you with a couple questions to meditate on: Since when did Rumi transcend from yogaville to enter the larger popular consciousness? And what is this strange world that features two 10-year old kids with Frank Zappa on their i-pods? Only in Hollywood…only in the movies…