Almost A Classic: Just Like Heaven

just like heaven indexA subtle Public Service Announcement (PSA) about the importance of limiting working hours.

I’m really happy that Marvel picks reserved (at least how they come across) actors to play ‘not so reserved’ roles. From Dave Bautista as Drax in ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ to Mark Ruffalo going green as Hulk in ‘Avengers: Endgame’ and ‘Thor: Ragnarok’. Somehow it feels like they are being allowed to show a bit more of their range. Dave was particularly impressive displaying his acting chops during the climax in ‘Bushwick’. Impressive because aside from the literal Drax, I’ve only seen him as Hinx in ‘Spectre’. Mark has played characters with immense vulnerability. From playing Lee in ‘My Life Without Me’ (which probably might be his most memorable role) to Dan in ‘Begin Again‘.

The Setup: Due to ‘distracted driving’ Elizabeth Masterson (Reese Witherspoon) finds herself in a serious collision. Three months after we meet David Abbott (Mark Ruffalo) searching for a furnished apartment that has the right kind of lounge. We later find that his comfort is quite important as he has decided to spend a significant amount of time in front of the telly chugging his beverage of choice (beer). After being shown a few duds by his real estate agent, Grace (Caroline Aaron), he gets annoyed by a flyer that is advertising a unit just across the road. Though the flyer behaving as one of those town square preachers leaps into the fantasy element of the story, we are given a plausible reason why Elizabeth’s home has been vacant for so long: it’s a month to month commitment. Since David is more than happy to piss off his days by upping his alcohol intake combined with no long term plans, it’s a perfect match. Of course it also helps that both have similar tastes on what is comfortable.

The Inciting Incident: Elizabeth’s spirit appears in David’s sublet. I could see the reason Mark said yes to this immediately after doing ‘Suddenly 30’. On the surface it seems like it’s him about to do a string of Romantic Comedies (which he didn’t — though he did ‘Rumor Has It…’ in the same year), but looking at where Matt (the character he plays in ‘Suddenly 30’) sits compared to David, they couldn’t be more different. Okay, they are both ‘nice guys’ (the actual definition — and not the kind that Emerald Fennell wanted to call out in ‘Promising Young Woman’: unreformed guys who have twisted what it means) yet David is the protagonist compared to Matt being the antagonist to Jenna Rink (Jennifer Garner).

The Stakes: Peace and quiet for David. Though his reflective reaction to it all is just that he would like to be left alone, his future really wouldn’t be that bright when there is a woman following him around that he can only see. Which is probably why Elizabeth is the perfect antagonist for him: she pushes him to move on. There’s a really amusing scene that makes the most out of their annoyance towards each other: usually when a spirit appears in a home, the occupant’s natural reaction is to stay away from it. David has decided that he will stand his ground and tries to understand why his medium (sort of), Darryl (Jon Heder), thinks that he should be the one moving.

A sign that both Mark Ruffalo and Reese Witherspoon are strong performers, is that they are able to pull of a scene even when the story circumstances aren’t deeply drawn out. So it doesn’t matter if they are sharing a scene, each has enough of a screen presence to be able to just be alone with the camera and not have to say anything. The supporting cast has been well selected thanks to Marci Liroff. Donal Logue playing Jack in a way (“slightly smarmy”) that echoes the role he’ll be playing in a few years on ‘Life‘. Dina Spybey-Waters plays the protective sister, Abby, ready to protect her family at a moment’s notice. Caroline Aaron proving that she’s really able to shine in playing ‘agents’ (though she gets more screen time in Marc Lawrence’s ‘The Rewrite’ as Ellen). Rosalind Chao playing the concerned colleague probably is similarly understated (but more down-to-earth) as to how Jon Heder plays his character.

Somehow when Elizabeth tries to get her body to ‘stick’ to her, I’m reminded of Pixar’s ‘Soul‘. Though I didn’t find myself too concerned about looking for plot holes (and compared to one viewer who thought that the ‘cough syrup’ on the pillow didn’t fit the narrative, I thought that was okay — since Elizabeth remembered things in bits and pieces). There’s also a nice touch when David is revealed to like things in its proper place (and couldn’t understand how a person could just keep pressing buttons on a remote until it worked). It focuses on the reality that when we show our worst sides (David keen on pissing away his health and Elizabeth making assumptions about others), it definitely makes it more difficult for the right person to be drawn to us. Hollywood has conditioned film lovers to go with the ‘the person you’re annoyed with would be a good match for you’ or ‘annoyance would turn into love’. What I had failed to realise is that the reason there is something that grows between a protagonist and antagonist in a film with it’s ‘A Story’ focused on a romantic arc, is that, what draws two characters together is the cracks that show up in the walls they both put up.

When Elizabeth finds out the cause of David’s grief, the information hasn’t been handed to her willingly. In a way, it is more of a staring contest. Though it’s more of a contest where both parties eventually win if they both give in to vulnerability (and not just a fake version of it). After watching ‘The Martian’, I wanted more on Beth Johanssen (Kate Mara) and Chris Beck (Sebastian Stan). I turned to the book, but because it wasn’t a romance (unlike other book adaptations), there barely is anything more about them. I think my point is that usually ‘happily every afters’ are helpful as a B, C or D plot — which is where Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain) and husband Robert Lewis (Charlie Gardner) may fit. I definitely wanted to find out where the commander’s love of disco came from (from Robert’s excitement in his message presenting an original pressing of ABBA’s ‘Greatest Hits’, it seemed like it was just a matter of existing ‘disco lovers’ finding each other).

Comedic Moments:

  • David versus ‘not so comfortable’ lounges
  • That’s the problem with apparitions: they do this random thing when they disappear
  • It’s probably not a good idea to leave a 4-year-old with a coma patient

The biggest concern was when Jack (presumably a respectable psychiatrist) tells David that alcohol is for keeping women loose which points into the possibility of the lack of consent when Jack spends time with them. Since David is the protagonist, it does make sense to give him an alternative to Elizabeth. Not just to add runtime to the story. Though those are not my favourite scenes, it is essential to see why he would choose a spirit over a living person: he’s the kind of guy who looks for a deeper connection. It is also not enough for David to say it, he has to actually be faced with that option in the form of Katrina. Not just once, but twice. This is the cornerstone of establishing a strong character. We have to believe that he is the right guy for her.

Every genre has a capability to give us a masterpiece. Though this one doesn’t get quite there. Its a good reminder that committed actors executing a well written script guided by a competent director is just enough to deliver a viewing experience that is memorable when consumed at the right time. I’m not sure if Mark Ruffalo is somehow limited in his role as Hulk in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but in this one, he seems as natural as ever. Maybe even more compared to playing Matt Flamhaff in ‘Suddenly 30′ (aka ’13 Going on 30’).

It was only after I was running through the people involved in the project (for Search Engine Optimisation purposes of course) and noticed that Marc Lévy is listed as the author who wrote the book. What book!? Apparently, just like ‘Otherhood’ (William Sutcliffe’s book is titled ‘Whatever Makes You Happy’) a decision was made to change the name. I would agree to both changes as ‘If Only It Were True’ sounds a bit further than what was eventually chosen. Maybe you’ll think of other possibilities and put them down in the comments. I had a bit of a go, but only could come up with not-so-great ones like: ‘David’s Amusing Haunting’, ‘An Annoying Haunting’, ‘When A Spirit Isn’t Really Dead’, ‘Elizabeth’s Ghost’, ‘Does Grief Make You See Spirits?’, ‘Awake But Asleep’, or ‘Unwanted Coma’.

If you’re the kind of human who enjoys putting in surprises within your film collection and relish telling the person browsing it asking ‘why in the peanut butter’ (I’m testing out expletives that wouldn’t necessarily be bleeped out) you would have this in your collection, because you’re looking forward to saying: “That’s actually quite good!” Then this would definitely fit that need. Maybe in time the title would eventually grow on me, but I feel like a different one might have worked better.

Leigh Lim.
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