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Just Like Heaven (2005)
Just Like Heaven is an American romantic comedy fantasy film released on September 16, 2005, in the United States and Canada. Set in San Francisco, it was directed by Mark Waters, starring Reese Witherspoon, Mark Ruffalo, and Jon Heder. It is based on the novel If Only It Were True (Et si c'était vrai...) by Marc Levy. Steven Spielberg acquired the rights to make the film out of the book. Elizabeth Masterson (Reese Witherspoon), a young doctor whose work is her whole life, is seriously injured in a car accident while on her way to a blind date. Three months later, David Abbott (Mark Ruffalo), a landscape architect recovering from the death of his wife, moves into the apartment that had been Elizabeth's. Elizabeth begins to appear to David at the apartment. However with ghostly properties and abilities it is clear something is not normal: She can suddenly appear and disappear, move through walls, and once takes over his actions. When they meet, they are both surprised, as Elizabeth is not aware yet of her condition. For the most part, David is the only one who can see Elizabeth, leading others to believe that he is hallucinating and talking to himself.
Heaven actually softens the blow by refining its cute idea about two souls needing a connection. One of them just happens to be a widow and the other a ghost. The former, David Abbott (Mark Ruffalo), lost his wife and hasn't been able to recover from the shock. The latter, Elizabeth Martinson (Reese Witherspoon), was a workaholic doctor who was the victim in the aforementioned car accident. When he moves in to her newly available San Francisco flat, David discovers Elizabeth's restless spirit around every corner, and the two set out to learn why her soul is trapped in limbo.
I see you rolling your eyes at the idea of Witherspoon unleashing another romantic comedy on us. And while it's true she often treads the genre's waters, she's reliably pleasant in each and often goes the extra mile to find a fresh angle. She's the anti-Meg Ryan, who sunk into a romantic-comedy rut years ago. Here, Witherspoon is given one aggressive, no-nonsense beat to hammer throughout the film, leaving Ruffalo ample room to improvise and show off his surprisingly powerful comedic vibe. Channeling Steve Martin from All of Me, Ruffalo taps a good, goofy vein that peps his performance. The two share noticeable chemistry and sharp timing.
Heaven does forget its own rules for the benefit of the larger story. For instance, Elizabeth's hands move through solid objects (like a telephone) when she reaches for them, but she's able to sit on park benches and in the cab of David's car. She also has a reflection. I'm nitpicking, I know, but movies receive bonus points when they can explain these details, so we have to be fair and deduct points when continuity issues are overlooked.
Even when Heaven needs to buckle down and resolve its conflicts, director Mark Waters (Mean Girls) guarantees that his movie keeps the laughs in view. Song selection continues to be important to Waters, a buoyant filmmaker as adept with an iPod as he is with a lens. He opens his comedy with an alternate version of The Cure's catchy Just Like Heaven and keeps the dial spinning for 90 airy minutes. Granted, the social arguments tied to a coma patient's right to life that surface in the film's conclusion seem out of touch with the film's established, jovial mood, but I give Waters and his screenwriters credit for even attempting a detour down that alley.
Heaven is pleasurable despite its problems. The final scenes require Ruffalo and sidekick Donal Logue (doing John Candy's Splash routine) to flounder through a slapstick dash through a hospital, followed by the requisite schmaltzy ending. We want a happy resolution, but saccharine this sweet is best served in coffee.
Just like San Francisco.