Cupid! Hey, Cupid! Come over here and shoot me. Right through my eye, please, because it would be less painful than having to watch Garry Marshall’s latest confectionary concoction. Valentine’s Day is already a manufactured holiday filled with cute rhymes in lacey cards, candied hearts that induce nausea, and flowers, flowers and more flowers. There’s little need for another gag-inducing love-fest unless it’s good. And Marshall’s Valentine’s Day is not.
Valentine’s Day is like the clown car of movies — everywhere you look another headliner pops out, and you’re left wondering how they all fit inside one film. But these clowns are more like Pennywise from Stephen King’s IT than Bozo, because the end result is a nightmare.
The film is high on concept, low on execution. It tracks the lives of countless Los Angelinos through one Valentine’s Day. Some are happily married, some newly engaged, some just starting out, some bitter, and some gay. Yes, Bradley Cooper is in a gay role! But don’t get too excited, because Marshall plays it for the shock value rather than a well-integrated storyline. More on that later.
Throughout the day, the umpteen characters all intersect in one way or another. For example, the guy in the mailroom (Topher Grace) is dating the sex-line worker (Anne Hathaway), who’s temping for the agent (Queen Latifah) representing the football player (Eric Dane) whose publicist (Jessica Biel) is friends with the teacher (Jennifer Garner) who is close with the florist (Ashton Kutcher). And that’s only about one-third of the cast. Everyone from Jamie Foxx and George Lopez to Shirley MacLaine and Jessica Alba make appearances.
Written by Katherine Fugate (The Prince & Me) based on a story by her, Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein (the duo who wrote the equally insipid He’s Just Not That Into You), it would be generous to call the story trite. With a few exceptions, the women are neurotic and needy and the men sweet and caring. The attempt to include the whole spectrum of relationships simply ensures that no one is anything more than a caricature. And audience members who don’t see every eventual pairing in the first 10 minutes must have been recently blinded by love (or science) because it’s painfully evident from the get-go what’s going to happen.
But even with a silly plot, so much star-power in one film must salvage something, right? Wrong. Most of the cast brings their L game (and by that I mean lowest, not love). To give them the benefit of the doubt, perhaps it’s because so many of the actors never act opposite each other, and when they do, it’s so brief, that there’s never a chance to generate any chemistry. There are a couple great moments, like Hathaway and Latifah working the sex-phone lines, and Taylor Lautner’s self-aware delivery of the line, ”I’m a little uncomfortable taking my shirt off in public,” but these moments are like one beautiful rose in an otherwise dead bouquet. In the end, you still have 11 rotting flowers on your hands.
Truly, the only enjoyable scenes are the most bitter. Take Garner attacking a piñata with a baseball bat like she’s Sydney Bristow in Alias again. It’s priceless. Too bad her performance leading up to this scene is all pouty lips and barely coherent, hurried lines. Sadly she gets more screen time than most, aside from Kutcher, the film’s leading man; he gets by with an ”Aw, shucks, aren’t I cute?” performance that’s not nuanced or believable. Still, he does manage to be adorable.
Finally, in terms of the gay storyline: A for diversity efforts — or pandering — but F for execution. Since the gay couple is used as a trick ending, the actual exploration of their stories is minimal at best. The payoff is as boring as you get. Sure, caressing someone’s face with a flower is pretty gay, but a little more intimacy between the two characters would be nice – and justify having to sit through two hours of film for it. Is a little man-on-man action too much to hope for Valentine’s Day? Apparently.
Ultimately it’s the film’s concept that fails. In the attempt to tie the stories together, Valentine’s Day becomes a disjointed mess of tenuous links and uncanny coincidences. It has worked in the past (Short Cuts, Crash), but not this year. Speaking of past films, if you think Valentine’s Day‘s concept is familiar, you’ll see more than one scene that’s oddly similar to Love, Actually, another film featuring big names, intertwined plots, and lots of heart-warming moments. While that one can be cheesy and over-the-top too, unlike Valentine’s Day, it’s good, actually.