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JUST LIKE HEAVEN

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars: Reese Witherspoon, Mark Ruffalo, Donal Logue, Jon Heder, Dina Waters
Director: Mark Waters
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Dreamworks
Features: See Review
Length: 95 Minutes
Release Date: February 7, 2006

"I think if you could ever really touch me…I might wake up from all this."

Film ***1/2

I’m not surprised that I found Just Like Heaven to be sweet, funny and charming. I AM surprised, however, to find myself so moved by it. This is just one of those movies that got under my skin and pushed all the right buttons. I smiled, I laughed…and I also cried. It happens to the best of us.

The story involves a young doctor named Elizabeth (Witherspoon). She’s dedicated, driven, and so married to her work that the people who live in her building have barely seen her. Her sister Abby (Waters) has tried to rectify that by setting her up on a date. She leaves for it after working a 26 hour shift in the emergency room, but never makes it.

Enter David (Ruffalo), a widower with a bit of a drinking problem. He sublets her apartment, but is more than a little shocked to find Elizabeth appear there one night. And disappear just as quickly. Is she a ghost?

Sort of…Elizabeth is a disembodied spirit, and for reasons neither can explain at first, only David can see or hear her. She has little to no memory of what happened before, so soon it’s up to the two of them to try and piece together her life, and to learn if there’s any hope for her to return to a state of being alive.

It turns out both are in a state where they have a lot to learn about living. And if Elizabeth can make David understand that life isn’t over for him, maybe he can help her make SURE life isn’t over for her.

It’s a simply sketched tale, but one that takes on great buoyancy because of the terrific leads. Mark Ruffalo is an affable, charming leading man, and Reese Witherspoon is beautiful, sunny, and a hell of an actress to boot. You can believe these characters fall in love across some plane-of-existence barrier. By the time the movie ends, you realize just how much they’ve earned our emotional investment. And good investments always pay off.

Credit also director Mark Waters, who, after Freaky Friday and Mean Girls has proven he has the magic touch when it comes to comedy. He knows how to let the characters be themselves, and how to draw the humor from them naturally so that nothing seems forced or out of place.

Some romantic comedies focus on the romance and forget the comedy, others just the opposite. Just Like Heaven is the rare gem that gets it right all the way around. If it’s not heaven for real, it’s darn close.

Video ***1/2

Dreamworks delivers a solid anamorphic transfer here. Colors are good throughout, as are lines and levels of details. There is a bit of softness here and there, but that may be intentional…it seems to give the movie a slightly ethereal quality.

Audio ***

It’s mostly dialogue driven, but there’s a great song score to keep the 5.1 mix lively. From the title song by The Cure to tunes by Beck and others, it’s a terrific soundtrack.

Features ***

There’s a solid commentary track with director Mark Waters, his editor and his cinematographer. Waters spills a lot of good information about the casting, filming, and tricks of the movie. There are also two featurettes, one on the cast and one on the making of the movie. Rounding out is a funny gag reel and four deleted scenes with optional commentary.

Summary:

There’s nothing wrong with sitting back and believing in miracles for 90 minutes. Just Like Heaven is a film that will tickle your funny bone and touch your heart at the same time. That’s a good combination when you can get it.

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