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Tonight’s gold star goes to the duo of Deborah Aquila and Mary Tricia Wood for their deal with the devil to compile a star-studded cast for the blatantly lackluster affair that is Valentine’s Day. I don’t know how they pulled it off—I’m sure the promise of a hefty payday for minimal work helped—but the name recognition on the poster and advertisements alone will go a long way in cementing the film’s number one status at the box office over it’s titular holiday weekend. The actual work itself, because of or despite the cast, is a flimsy two-dimensional bore without any surprises or true expression of love, the emotion supposedly central to the tale. It tries its darnedest to be Love Actually Redux, but never comes close to such vaunted status. While that British delight resonates in its ability to always stay real and honest, Katherine Fugate’s script here is rife with clichés, beating us over the head with a sledgehammer and spoon-feeding us exactly what we’d think a film like this would include. An overblown Hallmark card is all it ever becomes; something, I guess, is fitting considering the topic at its core.

The biggest downfall lies in the number of plotlines needing to be resolved within a short two hours. There just isn’t enough time to allot to each character’s progression to do justice. Rather than watching people grow in and out of love, we see them in a sort of speed dating exercise of emotions over on day, never evolving, but instead plugging along to the next page in the script. The intertwining plots are so carefully orchestrated and woven together that everything is inevitably foreshadowed with each role’s introduction onscreen. Once each comes into contact with the others they share their life with, we can read them and anticipate how every single story thread will be tied off. Much like Julia Roberts’ Captain Kate Hazeltine spots Bradley Cooper’s love tells on their flight home, we as an audience know these stereotypes like the back of our hands. I mean, seriously, not only is this a Hollywood machine driven work catering to the droves of Americans looking for regurgitated sentimentality, but it actually takes place in Los Angeles. How vain can the industry get? I guess it is Jane and John Doe who warrants such blatant glorification of a life full of materialism, placing value on it all by watching the reality tv drivel being pushed onto the masses as entertainment.

All the tropes are included from the hopeless romantic guy on cloud nine after getting engaged; the older couple who’ve gone a half century together; the beautiful workaholic who, because of her loneliness, doesn’t realize she could have the pick of the litter; to the ‘friend’ diving head first into another relationship with a lying cheat that she knows so well amongst others. It is so monotonous in its unoriginality that the main characters never become more than just cardboard cutouts going through the motions and taking up space while the supporting roles do their best to bring a little fun to the proceedings. I honestly blocked out pretty much every single scene including either Jennifer Garner or Ashton Kutcher as the script gave them absolutely nothing of merit to do. It is a shame because Kutcher actually had a few really nice moments, especially with youngster Bryce Robinson attempting to purchase roses for the greatest girl at his elementary school. Hector Elizondo and Shirley MacLaine’s little bit of the pie also rings hollow despite their adequate performances, serving better as ancillaries to other characters than in their own relationship together. As for the third part of the ‘main trio’, if you can call them that, composed of Topher Grace and Anne Hathaway—they weren’t bad. The writing might be pretty extreme in depicting him as a sheltered loser and her secretly moonlighting as a phone sex operator, but their performances might be the most innocently authentic in their awkward passivity when it comes to loving the other.

Besides these six actors, the rest really have little screen time. I enjoyed the earnestness of Robinson, but the wise beyond his years schtick quickly moves from cute to annoying as the role wants so hard to be like Thomas Sangster in Love Actually; Taylor Swift is the epitome of obnoxious, and never in a good way; and Patrick Dempsey is laughing his way to the bank for doing absolutely nothing. Some of the bit parts have their moments, though, especially Jamie Foxx with a couple funny lines, Jessica Biel getting the insecure beauty right, and George Lopez existing to bring laughs, but also some much needed heart. Even smaller roles than theirs stuck in my memory too, including the underrated Larry Miller and whomever played the manic employee of Kutcher’s at the flower shop, the guy who’s brother does all the Hollywood dresses. But the true shining moment, and the only redeeming subplot of the entire film, comes from Cooper and Roberts arriving home to LA. The ambiguousness of their companionship—meeting as strangers on the plane, but leaving with a strong unspoken bond—is possibly the only aspect of the film I truly invested my time with, actually allowing myself to want to discover where they will end up at the end; a result that worked for both in the grand scheme of things.

Valentine’s Day is shot nicely and constructed competently, but still can never break away from the romantic comedy generic structure we’ve come to expect from director Garry Marshall. The end result is nondescript and just one more entry into a growing genre full of derivative material. There are some genuinely effective moments, so don’t think I saw nothing of merit; they are just too few and far between to cause any headway in making the whole better than its mediocre script. When the definition of subtlety lies in the use of a song with the lyrics ‘Heartbreaker’ while shirtless Eric Dane comes onscreen or one talking about the ‘first time’ as Emma Roberts and Carter Jenkins plan to lose their virginity, (something she is not shy about telling everyone she passes on the street about), you get the idea of how heavy-handed everything is. Perhaps it works because of that, though; maybe it succeeds because it knows what it is and it achieves that goal. Truthfully, the only people going to see it will be couples in love on date night, projecting the lovey-dovey nature onscreen with the absolute bliss they feel in their own lives. To them pain and sorrow is unnecessary when, in fact, that darkness is crucial to the moments of love being emotionally strong. I guess there is a reason counter-programming exists—while those lovebirds watch shiny versions of themselves, the single guys like me will be attending The Wolfman. Or maybe we’ll just stay in and watch Love Actually again.

Valentine’s Day 4/10

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photography:
[1] ANNE HATHAWAY as Liz and TOPHER GRACE as Jason in New Line Cinema’s romantic comedy “Valentine’s Day,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo by Ron Batzdorff
[2] SHIRLEY MACLAINE as Estelle and HECTOR ELIZONDO as Edgar in New Line Cinema’s romantic comedy “Valentine’s Day,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo by Ron Batzdorff

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