Just Heavenly, Really

In the opening sequence of “Just Like Heaven,” the garden path Elizabeth Masterson (Reese Witherspoon) is meditating on is in the shape of a spiral. The symbolic nature of the spiral implies fate and karma; what goes around,comes around. With vivacity, the film presents these ideas; not in a way that does not weigh the audience down with convoluted philosophy and pretentious conclusions, but by using characters the audience can sympathize and identify with. Elizabeth is a talented but obsessed doctor trying desperately to get a top job at her hospital. With the help of a call from her devoted sister, Abby (Dina Spybey), and a run-down of her character in the ladies room, we find that Elizabeth has no life outside of work.

While Elizabeth treats patients with fluid, skillful motions: checking charts, giving shots, checking IV’s, her sister pulls lasagna out of the oven and hits a ball her daughters threw at her with the back of a wooden spoon without even looking. It’s an amusing dance which parallels a working woman and her home-maker sister.

After 26 hours on call in the ER, Elizabeth is given her new job, and is on her way to dinner at her sister’s with a blind date. Unfortunately, in ablinding flash of light and the squealing of breaks, her luck is cut short. The perspective then jumps to David Abbot (Mark Ruffalo), a scruffy nerfherder with a passion for couches and beer, in search of a new apartment. In a cute, “Mary Poppins”-type sequence, a flyer advertising what can only be Elizabeth’s former apartment rips itself off its bulletin board and attacks David until he reads it.

David and the amnesiac spirit of Elizabeth meet, but “Lizzie,” as David calls her, thinks he’s a slob, and David thinks she’s a priss. A match made in heaven. With David’s help, Elizabeth finds out who she was, why shehasn’t crossed over, and how she can help him with his own inner demons. Witherspoon and Ruffalo have tight chemistry on screen, in the manner of Katerine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. The romance that blooms between them does not seem forced, especially considering the film urges the audience to fall in love with the characters as well. The movie brings all elements full circle. Reminiscent of classical Hollywood movies, nothing in the film is extraneous.

The plot is a tried and true love story, with a few twists thrown in for originality’s sake, but the characters are the real reason to watch. Ruffalo’s David is especially magnetic; a reluctant hero, he is more interested in sitting in front of the tv all day, drinking beer and trashing Lizzie’s apartment, than living his life. At one point in the film, it is pointed out that David is deader than the spirit haunting him. However, his actions he performs and the expressions he makes endear him to the audience. Even the side characters in the film are amusing and anticipated. Jon Heder plays an adorable, off-beat psychic. David’s friend Jack (Donal Logue) is asexist psychologist that you love to hate, who is worried about the “invisible friend” David has made.

As opposed to most modern romantic comedies, whose most memorable scenes involve toilets and sex jokes, “Just Like Heaven” reaches above vulgar humor. The viewer takes a piece of the characters away, afterwards, whether it was a conversation between characters, or an expression made by Ruffalo or Heder. This film massages the emotions and hearts of the viewers, not just the funny bones.

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