Not Love, Actually
Intertwining tales of romance and love about multiple characters have been done before, and will be done again. As with any romantic comedy, it's a fine line between light hearted warm and fuzzy fun, and saccharine schmaltz and silliness that makes us roll our eyes in dismay.
Valentine's Day is the latest romantic film from Garry Marshall, the director of such films as Pretty Woman and Runaway Bride. There is a multitude of up-and-coming and current young and perfect Hollywood stars, along with a smattering of older talent to cover the spectrum. Though the clear primary romance is between Ashton Kutcher (The Butterfly Effect, TV's That 70s Show) and Jennifer Garner (TV's Alias, The Invention of Lying, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past).
There's not much point going into the plot, as it's pretty much as you would expect. Multiple interweaving stories about various couples, ranging in ages from a young boy to an elderly couple, each with their own problems to ultimately solve and become happy by the end of their tale. There's little to actively dislike in Valentine's Day. It is what it is, but unfortunately that's all it is. By-the-numbers Hollywood fair. It seems quite clear that some executives saw the success of the UK-based Love Actually, and decided it was a good idea to make an American equivalent. That in itself is not a bad idea for the US Audience, but it's not helped by the fact that it all feels like a bad combination of romantic cliché and watered down sub-plots clearly influenced by Love Actually. In addition, while functional, Kutcher and Garner are simply not particularly appealing in romantic roles in my opinion. They haven't got the bubbly charm or charisma for such parts.
The casting seems to have been done with a clear eye to “Who's famous that we can get to star”, rather than whether or not they're particularly suited to such roles. Jamie Fox seems clearly ill-suited. Anne Hathaway comes off somewhat better, clearly having fun with a reasonably amusing role. She's also one of the few actresses in the film actually suited to romantic comedy.
One storyline, of two teenagers planning their first time together, is a great example of how misjudged and clichéd the stories are in general. At first it seemed like a brave idea, to tackle the tale of two teenagers losing their virginity together, handling it responsibly and trying to make it meaningful. Instead it turns into a situation using a shockingly unoriginal 'American Pie' style joke, and typical moralising about “letting it happen naturally when the time is right”. It just feels like a stereotyped cop-out.
It passes the time, and it's fun enough in a basic way, without being shockingly bad. Unfortunately it is completely forgettable, unoriginal, and lacks the quirkiness and honesty of character that made something like Love Actually work. So don't feel bad for giving it a go one evening when you and your partner want to enjoy a romantic movie together, but don't expect to ever feel the desire to watch it again.