Lie to us, we ask on this pinkest of holidays. Tenderize us until we’re raw and chompable. This is why a director like Pretty Woman’s Garry Marshall even has a career to begin with, so woe be to those who enter his manically upbeat ensemble comedy, Valentine’s Day, with dark clouds overhead. Even the movie’s designated sad sacks (notably an inexplicably lonely Jessica Biel, who turns in a small miracle of nervousness) have long-telegraphed happy endings in store by the close of the day. A florist (Kutcher) grapples with his engagement rejection while his cute best friend (Garner) bites her lower lip in sympathy. A secret phone-sex worker (Hathaway) is career-outed in front of her uptight boyfriend; will he melt in understanding? (Hint: He’s played by Topher Grace.) As L.A. stories go, we’re a long way from Robert Altman’s Short Cuts.
And still: The surprising thing here is how smoothly this over-iced cake goes down. You know you’re getting schmaltz, but as with Britain’s obvious forebear Love Actually (2003), there are enough tart lines and gestures to elicit a certain admiration. The feisty Shirley MacLaine plays one scene in front of her sylphlike, younger self—projected behind her on an outdoor movie screen—and it’s today’s incarnation that grabs you. Blond awards-magnet Taylor Swift reveals an unexpected gift for self-deprecating sunniness, chattering vacantly in an elevator to a stranger. And even Marshall’s megawatt beamer, Julia Roberts, turns in a smart cameo as a returning soldier. But of all of them, I’ll take the waiter in a bruised mood, who sullenly declares, “I’ll come back...when you’re serious.” He’ll be waiting a while.—Joshua Rothkopf
See also The Hot Seat: Topher Grace
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