A romantic comedy featuring Reese Witherspoon as a disembodied spirit who teaches a lonely young man to live and love again? Either accept Just Like Heaven as a guilty (make that extremely guilty) pleasure, or else prepare yourself for the violent urge that will force you to throw something at the screen. Witherspoon stars as Elizabeth, a workaholic med who, after a tidy prologue, getsinvolved in a car accident that leaves her in a coma. Enter the aforementioned young man, David (the ever-charming Mark Ruffalo), wallowing in alcohol and television after his wife’s untimely death. Subletting Elizabeth’s now vacated apartment, David is consistently bothered by visitations by her nagging, uptight spirit. A crash-course in the Hollywood meet-cute — paranormal-style — ensues: mutual annoyance, mutual begrudging assistance, mutual admiration, mutual love. As the duo piece together the mystery of Elizabeth’s identity and figure out how to bring her back from the coma, David learns to extricate himself from apathy and self-pity, while Elizabeth learns how her ceaseless drive had closed her off from life’s pleasures. Really, the narrative could be converted into a mathematical equation for all its spontaneity and unpredictability.
Just Like Heaven is hokey nonsense, pure and simple (a post-Terri Schiavo moral can easily be read if one chooses to go that far). And yet, for what it intends, it succeeds. Though you’re perfectly aware of being fed unchallenging formula, you actually care for the characters, even as you snicker — perhaps the highest compliment that can be paid to such a film. Mark Waters (director of Mean Girls, Freaky Friday, and . . . The House of Yes?) keeps the funny scenes funny, the emotional scenes emotional, and the pacing tight. If fluff’s what you crave, look no further. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Opens September 16