Just Like Heaven

2006-07-17 16:07


Elizabeth Masterson (Reese Witherspoon) is a workaholic doctor with no time for a personal life. When she finally agrees to go on a blind date, she drives straight into a truck and becomes a spirit - with amnesia. Enter David Abbot (Mark Ruffalo), a depressed architect who has moved into her now empty apartment. A very confused Elizabeth begins appearing to David and refuses to believe she's dead. He just wants her to leave. To get his apartment back, David decides to help Elizabeth find out who she is in the hope that she will then 'pass on'. Despite the fact that she thinks he's a slob and he's thinks she's highly-strung, they soon discover a mutual and growing attraction to each other.


Just Like Heaven is an unusual romance that raises many interesting questions. Unfortunately it also fails to answer any of them properly, and opts to settle for the safe and comfortable "rom-com" formula that is the mainstay of first dates. We have seen the themes of destiny and separated lovers a hundred times before, Serendipity and Sleepless in Seattle being prime examples. And if you enjoyed those, you'll love Just Like Heaven.

Everything in this film 'happens for a reason'. The flyer advertising Elizabeth's apartment magically flies straight into David's face. Amazingly, this fantastic apartment is still available to rent. When David moves in he finds a woman is still living there, but only he can see and hear her (ooh, how strange).

Unaccustomed to living with dead people who can't remember their names, he tries to get rid of her by consulting a variety of charlatans. He also has a priest perform an exorcism that would have done Max Von Sydow proud.

Finally, David meets Darryl (Jon Heder), an esoteric bookstore employee with some genuine psychic ability. Jon Heder, who you might recognise from Napoleon Dynamite, once again plays a gormless nerd, but this time he is spiritually enlightened and smiles more often (must be all that incense). Darryl tells David that Elizabeth is not actually dead. Yet. This fact sends David and Elizabeth on a journey to discover who she is and, inevitably, they start to enjoy each other's company. She finds out that he is still grieving for his wife, despite his bachelor friend Jack (Donal Logue) encouraging him to get laid. Amazing how there's always a friend like that in these kinds of movies (and real life too).

Still, Reese Witherspoon is an eager and lovely Elizabeth, while Mark Ruffalo is a cute and grumpy David. The result is an undeniable chemistry between the two that stops the rambling storyline becoming dull. And ramble it does, using many of the jokes you would expect when someone doesn't have a body. See Elizabeth walk through a table. See Elizabeth 'possess' David's body so that he can't drink another whisky. It's a bit like Ghost meets 10 Things I Hate About You.

Inevitably, once she remembers her identity as a brilliant young doctor, Elizabeth realises that she took life for granted by working too hard. David, on the other hand, realises that he actually enjoys having her surprising him as he steps out of the shower. Only, how can they be together if she's dead? What an interesting and offbeat story this is turning into one thinks...

But wait - she's not dead! Elizabeth is just in a particularly deep coma and cannot connect her spirit to her physical body. There is hope for this couple. They can both have a second chance at life, love and a white picket fence when she eventually wakes up. However that would lack dramatic tension, so to make the situation more immediate, we have Elizabeth's loving sister Abby (Dina Waters) deciding it's kinder and more humane to switch off her life support.

This is a morally disturbing point. It says, "Don't turn off a family member's life support in case they're a spirit and have met someone as yummy as Mark Ruffalo". It leaves a bad taste in the mouth, especially in the wake of recent 'pulling the plug' cases in America, and from this point the movie dissolves into unnecessary details and melodrama - all tied up with the ending you expect.

Ultimately, Just Like Heaven is a sweet, unchallenging and surprisingly chaste romance, But it's sweetness is marred by an unnecessary moralistic streak. If you feel like a few laughs or want to see Mark Ruffalo as a good guy (though he's much sexier as a rough cop in In The Cut), it passes the time well enough. But if you believe in soul mates, fate and Hallmark cards, then this is a must-see.

- Amanda Whitehouse

Reese Witherspoon and Mark Ruffalo save this occasionally interesting film about fate, spirits and pulling the plug on life support.

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