Valentine’s Day reviewed

Valentine’s Day, the all-star romantic comedy drama from Pretty Woman director Garry Marshall is actually a pleasant surprise. Sure the film is superficial, but for the most part it avoids the usual frenetic genre silliness to emerge as a viewing experience that is both sweet and harmless.

Set on Valentine’s Day in Los Angeles, Valentine’s Day looks at the interlinking romantic fortunes and misfortunes of around a dozen men and women over the course of 18 hours. The impressive, likable cast includes Jessica Biel, Ashton Kutcher, Jennifer Garner, Anne Hathaway, Julia Roberts, Bradley Cooper, Jamie Foxx, Shirley MacLaine, Patrick Dempsey, Taylor Swift, Taylor Lautner and George Lopez, just to name a few of the recognisable faces in the film.

Now Valentine’s Day is obviously heavily indebted to British romance Love Actually, that other love-centric, holiday-set film with an all-star ensemble cast. Both films even feature an adorable little blonde boy who, deprived of a mother’s affection, succumbs to a serious bout of love sickness. The problem for Valentine’s Day though is that it’s always going to struggle when compared to Love Actually, which has actually grown in popularity during the seven years since its release.

For the record, Love Actually remains the superior film, largely because Valentine’s Day feels too glossy and Hollywood-ised. For one thing, the cast is impossibly fresh-faced and gorgeous. Taylor Lautner and Carter Jenkins, playing sporty, and frequently sweaty, high school jocks, aren’t the only males in the cast to flash their six-packs – even Topher Grace looks surprisingly buff. And even the “non-pretty” people like Queen Latifah are presented as stylish and impeccably well groomed in the film.

Then there’s the fact that Valentine's Day can’t resist being an insular little love letter to Los Angeles – home of the American film industry. All the clichés are there, from the convoy of Latino garden service vans pulling into suburban driveways early in the morning, to the pretty waitresses who are all aspiring actresses. I may be mistaken but I don’t remember Love Actually pimping London in such a manner.

Finally, and this is the biggie, Love Actually explored the issue of love with far greater complexity. So in the 2003 film there was unrequited love, romantic relationships made impossible by heart wrenching family commitments, marriages hurt by infidelity but struggling on, and even the platonic love and loyalty that can be gained from a good friendship. In Valentine’s Day, with the exception of maybe two segments, romantic love between a man and a woman is the focal point. And everyone gets their happy ending! In Valentine’s Day, even the bitterest characters find love in the form of a fellow cynic.

Still though, these gripes aside, some of the segments in Valentine’s Day do carry an emotional charge. This applies especially to the Jennifer Garner-Ashton Kutcher storyline, as well as the Julia Roberts and Bradley Cooper airplane scenes, which are genuinely funny and, in the end, quite poignant. The only couple I could easily have done without in the film is Taylor Swift and Taylor Lautner, who seem present purely for eye candy purposes. Their characters are annoyingly dumb and superficial. Then again, perhaps they’re in the film to stress that young, hormone-driven love is just as valid as any other form of romantic affection.

In the end Valentine’s Day is a “safe” romance that makes for an amiable evening’s entertainment for couples and singles alike. The film really offers nothing new, but the fact that it avoids over-the-top goofiness makes it more than palatable. Just remember to stay in your seat for the credits sequence. If you’re a knowing filmgoer, the Julia Roberts scene is one of the comedic highlights of the film.


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