FILMREVIEW: Valentineaa‚¬a„¢s Day

Newsroom 08/03/2010 | 14:44

Warning: if you have just been dumped by a lover or spouse, if you are single and unhappy about it, or if you are the tiniest bit disposed towards feelings of depression, do not go within ten miles of watching Valentine’s Day. This sugary slush-fest will have all but the most loved-up and smugly attached viewers weeping in the aisles at the hopelessness of their lonely lot in life. It will have lovers of good movies weeping in the aisles for different reasons.

The film comes from Garry Marshall, who directed well known gritty social-realism classic Pretty Woman. The premises of Valentine’s Day seems to be to take Love Actually, the romantic Richard Curtis Christmas ensemble piece from a few years back and repackage it, removing all the irony, most of the humour and the bittersweet British edge that stopped that film from being unrelentingly cloying. Even by the standards of the arch-imitating Hollywood machine, this is shameless copying. Two of the plot strands – serious motherless boy falls in love with someone at school and adult entertainment industry worker is incongruously coy about real-life dating – are lifted, wholesale, from Richard Curtis’s film. There’s also a scene in which a character dashes frantically past airport security to stop The Woman He Loves getting on the plane. Why not just call it Valentine’s Day Actually and have done with it? (And what’s with all the airport dashes in these movies? Did the screenplay writers miss 9/11 or something? If you race past airport security these days you will either be shot or in an orange jumpsuit with your limbs shackled together faster than you can say “Don’t get on the plane, I love you,” – whether you look like Ashton Kutcher or not.)

Like its superior prototype, this is a multi-stranded affair as the lives and loves of beautiful Los Angeleans criss-cross each other. Space and interest constraints prevent me from itemising it comprehensively, but our chief dramatis personae include Ashton Kutcher’s florist, almost nauseating in his incessant bonhomie, Jessical Biel as a PR who can’t ever get a date on Valentine’s Day (okay, nobody was expecting high levels of plausibility but come on!), a quartet of hormonal teenagers, Shirley MacLaine as a good-time grandma, Anne Hathaway as a sex chat line operative, Jamie Foxx as a cynical sports reporter, Julia Roberts as a soldier returning to see the man she loves… I don’t have the strength to go on. You get the picture. As usual, we have some ethnic minority characters thrown in as quirky best friends, employees, bosses etc – it is LA, you know – and a generous dollop of cringe-inducing racial stereotyping.

Big-name ensemble films of recent years – Love Actually, Crash, He’s Just Not That Into You – usually make a reluctant concession to the demands of realism that not everybody’s story arc ends blissfully, that sometimes goodness does not prevail and baddies avoid their comeuppance. I shan’t “spoil” the plot for you by revealing whether that happens here, though you may develop an inkling as the movie slowly (it’s over two hours long) progresses.

If you have a high level of schmaltz tolerance, there is a handful of things to like here. High production values. Lots of stars, with some enjoyable cameos. It is well plotted (as it should be: it stole practically the entire plot of a superior film). There is a gratifying scene in which a wronged woman confronts the two-timing rat who did the dirty on her, which should provide inspiration for anyone finding themselves in that predicament. Some of the twists do catch you out, and there are a few funny one-liners. But overall, this is candy-coated, cynical, depressing Hollywood filmmaking by numbers. Happy Valentine’s Day.


Debbie Stowe


Director: Garry Marshall

Starring: Half of Hollywood

On at: Cinema City Cotroceni, Hollywood Multiplex, Movieplex Cinema, Starplex, The Light


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