As the trailers and commercials show, Valentine’s Day features every bankable working actor, and tackles nearly twenty different storylines in two hours. The film shows us a day in the lives of all sorts of different couples. All of the characters are thinly linked to each other, mainly through Reid (Ashton Kutcher), a florist who proposes to his girlfriend (Jessica Alba) on Valentine’s Day morning. The film also features Anne Hathaway, Jennifer Garner, Jessica Biel, Julia Roberts, and Bradley Cooper in its gargantuan cast.
Like last year’s He’s Just Not That Into You, this film has too many expendable plotlines and goes on for about half an hour too long. But while He’s Just Not That Into You did have some interesting stories (most notably, the one involving Bradley Cooper, who had much more to work with in that film), Valentine’s Day really has nothing in the writing or filmmaking to back up its undeniably talented cast. It’s just a poorly made film from Garry Marshall (Pretty Woman, The Princess Diaries), who should know better.
The packed audience that I saw the film with was ready to have a good time. They cheered for Taylor Lautner’s biceps, gasped at “shocking” twists, and gave a collective “awww” at all of the right moments. But some of the jokes fell so incredibly flat that the theatre was virtually silent. Several plot points are poorly explained (I spent half the movie thinking that Emma Roberts was discussing sex with her grandparents, only to later realise that they were the people who’d hired her as a nanny), and the rapid-fire snippets of each storyline make the film feel manic and choppy. And while the film tries to throw a few surprises at the audience, they’re either painfully obvious, or are revealed about characters that we know virtually nothing about (such as Eric Dane’s pro footballer), and thus feel totally random.
This fragmented format for a romantic comedy never allows for much character development, but Valentine’s Day is chocked full of characters that are totally defined by who they are or are not dating. The only remotely fleshed out characters are the two oldest characters (played by Shirley MacLaine and Hector Elizondo). We actually get to learn something about their past, and that’s probably why their storyline is one of the few aspects of the film that works.
Other highlights come few and far between, and mainly depend on which actors the viewer was already a fan of. Cooper and Julia Roberts have a fun chemistry that helps to propel their storyline along, despite the film’s relentlessly catatonic script. And Hathaway and Topher Grace also manage to inject some charm into an otherwise silly storyline.
Although Taylors Swift and Lautner were more heavily advertised, the film’s more interesting teenage pairing comes from Emma Roberts and Carter Jenkins. The latter, despite being one of the only unfamiliar faces on screen, manages to stand out in this massive cast. Ashton Kutcher also gives one his most likeable, least shrill movie performances yet, and he may be the only person who is taking a step up by appearing in this movie.
Valentine’s Day is more enjoyable than its awful first half hour would suggest, but a few fun performances aren’t enough to let this film go by unscathed. From the seemingly endless stream of rom-com clichés to its hopeless child actors (and Swift, who might as well be one), the film is a mess. There’s something to be said for cinematic escapism, but there’s certainly better things that you can escape with than this. It’s far too slim on laughs, and in the end, it’s just another unfortunate by-product of Valentine’s Day.