Sunday, February 28, 2010

He Said, She Said: VALENTINE'S DAY

He Said: J McKiernan: Happy Valentine's Day, K...

She Said: K McKiernan: Two weeks late, but that's okay, Love.

JM: In the spirit, let's unleash some "love" on Garry Marshall's star-studded, money-making, studio-fantastic film, Valentine's Day.

KM: I know it’s not cool to do anything but crack on this movie, but I enjoyed it. Was it the best filmmaking ever created? Hell no, but as a date movie, Valentine's Day delivers pretty much everything I want and expect. I was entertained and I got to sit and be embraced in nice warm fuzzies (mostly) for its running length. It helped that I was next to my valentine as well. Okay, so, go, tear me and the movie apart. I know you want to.

JM: Look, it would be fun to tear this movie apart, but I won' least not with the visceral vigor I expected to going in. Is the film pretty simpering and shallow? Obviously. Is it so densely populated with movie stars at every corner that many stories get short shrift? Absolutely. Is it Garry Marshall's lame attempt to score a Love Actually type lovebird happy movie? Yes, and it can't come anywhere near the joyous wonder of Love Actually. But is it the ungodly atrocity I expected walking into the screening room? Well, no, it wasn't. I expected a steaming turd, and I got a mediocrity with some sweet moments.

Continure reading after the jump...

KM: Uh, you aren't going to tear the movie apart? Um, you just did. No, visceral vigor? Ha, that seemed like quite the workout! In all fairness, I don't think it is possible for you restrain yourself. But really, why should you? You can think whatever you want of the movie, but I would say that it was more than mediocre.

JM: Describe...

KM: Yes, it had sweet moments, and it was also fun. I wanted to see where the plots were going, where they would intersect, where they would converge. And I enjoyed visiting with all my "friends." I know, I don't know any of the actors personally, but when you get an ensemble piece of this magnitude, it can be really nice to just sit and watch them all interact. Just see them all in “one room” at one time.

JM: Part of the appeal of the film -- for anyone, even curmudgeonly critics like me -- is the expansive cast of stars. In Love Actually it was Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Laura Linney, Emma Thompson, and Bill Nighy. In Valentine's Day it's Ashton Kutcher, Jennifer Garner, Jamie Foxx, Anne Hathaway, Topher Grace, Queen Latifah, and occasionally, for about a minute at a time, Julia Roberts and Bradley Cooper.

KM: You are a curmudgeon and why are you keep bringing up Love Actually?

JM: And yes, recognizable faces bridge a gap between us and the characters, making us like them almost on sight, without getting to know them. So I get it. And admittedly, I was actually impressed by Kutcher, who anchors the movie in a weird way. He works and his story works, which is something I never thought I would say about Kutcher...ever. So good on him.

KM: I am sick of hearing critics say this movie is trying to be Love Actually. So, only one large ensemble acted romantic comedy is allowed to exist in the universe of Hollywood movie making? I adore Love Actually, A-D-O-R-E it, but I did not think about that movie one time while watching Valentine's Day. The two films are totally different tonally.

JM: I thought about Love Actually constantly. How it did so much more with so fewer cast members telling very similar stories that soared when Marshall is content with his stories merely coasting. There is no comparison with that much better film that Valentine's Day can win, yet for me the comparison is inevitable. It's like they wanted to fill the substance gap with more celebrities, which is...ahem...always a winning strategy.

KM: I agree. Love Actually is totally and completely the better movie, but that argument is rooted in the notion that the two are to be compared. I do not think they are supposed to be nor do I want to. Thankfully, you must have had some love to spread that day, because you were looking to gun it down completely, wearing your disdain for Garry Marshall proudly on your sleeve.

JM: I was, but in all fairness, there are elements that work here. The Kutcher storyline works, and his relationship with Garner works as the through-line for the movie. I also liked Anne Hathaway's performance, because there is never a reason to dislike any Anne Hathaway performance, even if her character's story has one uniquely unsavory off-shoot that doesn't quite work. I liked Jamie Foxx, too...funny and charming, which he rarely does anymore. There is one story I truly can't spoil for anyone who wants to see the film, featuring Grey's Anatomy's Eric Dane as a veteran NFL quarterback (in this film's unlicensed pseudo-NFL, that is), which is surprisingly tender by the end. I won't deny the film its deserving merits, but they are only parts of a much larger, much more flawed whole.

KM: Look, sure, V-Day could have developed some characters more complexly, it could have painted some characters less sharply, others less one-dimensionally, and it could have taken a little more time with some issues that take time to discuss, but the movie was a simple love note. It was a love note between different kinds of lovers and it was a love note to audiences who want a little sweet escape: a few laughs, a few recognitions of truth, and a few emotional moments. Pure and simple. It gives us what it sets out to give us.

JM: Okay, but is that really enough? I mean, Shirley Maclaine and Hector Elizondo as an old married couple is a good idea in principle, unless you plan to unearth some big secret to change our perception of their relationship, which feels fraudulent. Or the little boy who harbors secret love when it doesn't seem like any kid would be capable of love...there's a big ole' Love Actually rip-off. Taylor Lautner and Taylor Swift seem like last-minute window dressing additives to make the film seem current (even though they aren't together anymore, so "current" goes out the window). And Garry Marshall's direction is pretty bad, as usual. Granted, he hasn't committed an atrocity like...well, any of his past films (is it odd to say that Valentine's Day is Marshall's best film ever? Go ahead and make a quote whore out of me!). But his need for inappropriate goofball jokes and awkward edits in the name of dumb-ass humor breaks the flow and reminds us where we are just when we almost forget and go with it. Which is unfortunate.

KM: Sigh. Yes, sometimes that can be "enough." Your comments seem an awful lot like hating the film and I am not seeing any of the "love" you said you would be unleashing. You are totally allowed to hate whatever you wish, but I think this movie is a prime example of why so many people just hate film critics. They read them, but they turn away often in disgust. Sometimes, just sometimes, you want to just enjoy the movie for what it is, and this movie has enough sweetness, love, and humor to make it worth seeing. So, I am going to grade it now. It gave me mostly what I wanted and sometimes, that is all audiences really want. I give Valentine's Day a B-.

JM: If you think my words are the equivalent of "hating the film," you ain't seen nothin' yet. We've reviewed truly terrible movies before and have done so already this year, as a matter of fact. Valentine's Day is not terrible, and the fact that any Garry Marshall movie isn't terrible is, in its own way, refreshing. Valentine’s Day had some good moments, some friendly faces, some good performances, some cute surprises, and some surprising sensitivity -- all positive, unexpected elements. I think the movie is too big and contains too many disenchanting elements to go full-tilt positive, but for me, a qualified C is surprisingly positive.

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