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Boredom, Actually

by Laura Leon on February 18, 2010

Valentine’s Day
Directed by Directed by Garry Marshall

Grand Hotel it ain’t: (l-r) Roberts and Cooper in Valentine’s Day.

There was a time, first during the hard days of the Great Depression and later during the waning days of the studio star system, when audiences flocked to see “a cavalcade of stars” all in one movie. Some of these efforts were really very good, notably Grand Hotel, which gave ticket buyers the chance to gaze at two Barrymores, a Crawford, a Garbo, a Beery, and more. Others, like It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, were just silly, more potent in reminding us of the swift passing of youth than in providing any major bang for our entertainment dollar. Most recently, filmmakers have tried throwing together an all-star oleo to grasp at recapturing the heights of romantic comedy, and with mixed results (Love Actually, anybody?). Which brings us to what must have been dreamed up as the ultimate date flick, Valentine’s Day, in which scores of hot young things, and a few legends (including Shirley MacLaine), cross paths and try to work up enough steam to have us longing for more.

Sadly, this just doesn’t happen. Nor does anything else of any importance, humor, or substance. At about two hours’ running time, Valentine’s Day is the cinematic equivalent of water torture, so much so that I even texted my editor husband halfway through with the reviewer’s version of an SOS—“Don’t know how much longer I can sit through this.”

Director Garry Marshall plumbs new depths of boring, with one-dimensional characters like Jamie Foxx’s sportswriter, who, because it’s a slow sports day in Southern California (!), is forced by his editor (Kathy Bates, collecting a paycheck) to try to find something romantic to write about. Then there’s Reed (Ashton Kutcher), a florist who singlehandedly delivers flowers to several characters, thereby supposedly linking a thread, however tenuous, between them. Reed loves Morley (Jessica Alba), who can’t commit, and is best buds with Julia (Jennifer Garner), a teacher in love with Dr. McDreamy, I mean Copeland, (Patrick Dempsey), who is actually married to someone else. Meanwhile, Julia Roberts, in uniform, is seated on a plane next to recently single Holden (Bradley Cooper), and we’re meant to wonder if something’s going to happen, but get thrown a not-so- surprising curveball at film’s end. Anne Hathaway shocks boyfriend Topher Grace with the revelation that she’s a phone-sex operator. For the teenybopper set, there’s Taylor Swift and Taylor Lautner and Emma Roberts and Carter Jenkins; of the four, only Lautner comes off as semi-appealing.

Presumably, by the “let’s get naked” line at the end of the movie, all ends well for most of this disparate bunch, but does anybody in the audience particularly care? Robert Altman did far more with far fewer (but still a lot of) characters in Short Cuts, from which Marshall cops for the Hathaway storyline. For all these beautiful people, there’s little to no sense of the thrill of falling in love, or of being madly attracted to another being, however inappropriate. There’s no joy, no passion, just pretty faces and hot bodies posing without purpose.