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Witherspoon breathes life into latest romantic comedy

Erin McGinn | Wednesday, September 28, 2005

“Just Like Heaven” is an enjoyable romantic comedy, even though it has very few unique ideas of its own. It is a successful blend of numerous other “chick flicks” that have come before it, from “Ghost” to “City of Angels,” and even borrows from classic stories like “Sleeping Beauty.” While it is not entirely original, it is still an excellent movie due to the enjoyable performances of its stars and supporting cast, solid writing, and direction by Mark Waters (“Mean Girls,” “Freaky Friday”).

Reese Witherspoon is well-established in the arena of romantic comedy, having starred in genre films such as “Sweet Home Alabama.” The actress is ideal for the role of Elizabeth, the workaholic physician. After putting in a 26-hour day, she leaves for her sister, Abby’s (Dina Spybey) house to meet a blind date. While on the way there, Elizabeth is hit by an oncoming truck.

David (Mark Ruffalo) unknowingly rents Elizabeth’s San Francisco apartment due to its comfortable couch. He spends all his time on the couch until Elizabeth appears and demands that he leave her apartment. Unsure if he is just drunk or crazy, he tries to ignore her ghostly presence as long as he can.

Though his psychiatrist friend Jack (Donal Logue of the television show “Grounded for Life”) tries to convince him that he’s crazy, David suspects otherwise and heads to the local occult bookstore for more information. There he meets psychic Darryl (Jon Heder of “Napolean Dynamite”). David tries exorcism and even a ghost-busting company to rid the apartment of Elizabeth. Since he is the only one able to see her, he finally agrees to help her solve the mystery of her haunting, since she selectively remembers things about her past.

Together the pair tries to get to the bottom of the matter and inevitably fall in love with each other in the process. In an interesting twist, Elizabeth is defined in the movie by Darryl as a spirit, not a ghost – in other words, she’s not actually dead, having not “crossed over” to the other side.

The movie never takes itself too seriously, and it even manages to light-heartedly address the life-death issues that arose regarding the Terry Schiavo case last spring.

Reese Witherspoon is in her element and breathes life into Elizabeth, making her believable. These kind of roles are familiar territory for the actress, who manages to make the character warmly charming rather than merely bizarre. Mark Ruffalo deftly handles much of the comedic elements of the movie, successfully acting alone when others do not see Elizabeth.

The supporting cast, although having much less screen time, is equally successful. Donal Logue is highly amusing as David’s psychiatrist and friend who is worried about his friend’s mental health. Jon Heder is a riot as the psychic who understands David’s plight, but is also able to see things from Elizabeth’s point of view. He becomes David’s advisor and link to the supernatural world.

Mark Waters adeptly directs the romantic comedy, which could have easily headed too far toward cliché. The screenplay, adapted from Mark Levy’s best-selling 2001 book “If Only It Were True,” does not cover much new ground, but it is clever enough to overcome its flaws.

“Just Like Heaven” succeeds thanks to the charisma of its stars and the solid writing and directing. While it’s not particular original or groundbreaking, it doesn’t try to be. Instead, it’s simply one of the best romantic comedies in recent memory and one of the better films of the year.