“Valentine’s Day” should have been the “Ocean’s Eleven” of romantic comedies. After all, director Garry Marshall is the man who made “Pretty Woman.” The cast includes, to name just a few: Jennifer Garner, Julia Roberts and Ashton Kutcher, three actors well-versed in the romantic comedy genre. There’s even a genuine Oscar winner in the cast with Jamie Foxx. Yet instead of being excellent, “Valentine’s Day” suffers from the greatest film sin of all: sacrificing originality in order to please everyone.
The film gives us a glimpse into the lives of many couples and singles living in L.A. on Valentine’s Day. The film begins with Reed Bennett (Kutcher) lying in bed in the morning, staring at a wedding ring he’s planning to give to his girlfriend Morley Clarkston (Jessica Alba). From there, we’re taken on a whirlwind journey across Los Angeles, from the lovesick affections of a small boy in elementary school to the seemingly stable relationship of an elderly couple, to a high school couple debating whether or not Valentine’s Day is the perfect day to have sex for the first time. There’s so much going on in this movie, in fact, that it’s difficult to make sense of it all.
The writers, perhaps seeing this problem of over-complication within their movie, decided to rely on cheap clichés instead of original storytelling. The writers have given us a movie with characters we are all too familiar with in order for us to digest the movie’s “plot.” There’s the best friends who don’t know they’re in love with each other, the man’s man who isn’t looking for love yet somehow finds it and the dumb blonde girl who, apparently, is only in the movie for laughs.
The worst part of this is that they go out of their way to point out how cliché-ridden the movie really is. When Kutcher rushes to the airport to stop Garner’s character from getting on a plane, the man at the ticket desk takes a guess why Kutcher is in such a hurry. “Let’s see,” he says. “This is going to be a tough one. There’s a very pretty girl and she’s about to get on an airplane, and if you don’t stop her, she’ll never know how you really feel.” It needs to be noted that pointing out the triteness of your plot is not clever, it’s a shameful way of avoiding the issue at hand. Not to mention this trick has already been done. Molly Ringwald, playing an airline employee, pointed out the clichés of airport scenes nine years earlier in “Not Another Teen Movie.”
The one spark among all the misfires and clichés of “Valentine’s” is the story of Liz (Hathaway) and Jason’s (Topher Grace) relationship. Liz is a nice girl with a secret; she moonlights as a phone sex operator. Since she’s a college graduate with a degree in poetry, this is the only way Liz can pay the bills. The gimmick ends up being one of the few true laughs in the movie, as Liz runs away from a date with Jason to deal with one of her customers on the phone, calling herself Katya and speaking in a thick Russian accent. Meanwhile, Grace doesn’t disappoint, delivering the same sarcastic wise guy performance he always has. The shtick is one of the few things within this film that works. Yet Grace and Hathaway only have a combined screen time of about 20 minutes, leaving us with about an hour and a half of a movie without any substance.
Marshall is a director who is no stranger to flops. I’d mention 2007’s “Georgia Rule,” but I doubt anyone would remember it. While “Valentine’s” isn’t as bad as “Georgia,” it is still definitely one of his misses. With such an all-star cast, Marshall, the man who created “Happy Days,” should’ve delivered something funny, witty and original. Instead, “Valentine’s” is much too like the holiday; bittersweet and a little disappointing.