With no less than 20 billable stars and eight story lines, the humdrum Valentine’s Day is a marshmallow-fisted counter-attack against the cynical idea that “Love’s Day” is a corporate foisted, marketing driven excuse to steal money and inspire loveless singles feel bad about themselves. It’s a “one day where love conquers all and everyone gets their Valentine wish” movie. Or at least, that’s what the overly forced scripts tries to clobber home. Instead, Valentine’s Day offers a valentine box that’s not stuffed with homemade, handwritten tokens of affection, but their store-bought, shallow and emotionally truncated equivalent.
So here’s a moment of uncomfortable truth: I wanted to see this movie. Buoyed by the prospect of cozying up to a cloying, feel-good American companion to Love, Actually, Valentine’s Day felt like a chance to take in a round of filmic comfort food. But at the end of its two hours, even my Lady-Friend, who attended the screening with me, was disenfranchised. “It was OK” isn’t a blushing, melting endorsement from a core audience member.
As fun as watching 2/3 of People Magazine‘s “World’s Most Beautiful People” should be, Valentine’s Day dilutes the experience in a tangle of plot thread overkill. Girl meets boy, but boy is married and only her best friend knows. Phone sex girl is in a new relationship but can’t bring herself to tell her new guy about her profession. Girl plans to give up her virginity– shenanigans ensue. News Reporter is assigned to cover Valentine’s day and discovers its true meaning… and more! In short, little kids crush, teens gush, working girls mope, Gen Xers waffle and old timers dance in the park.
As balance, all these mini-tales haphazardly weave through the lives of “I’ve found the one!” school teacher Julia (Jennifer Garner) and “I lost the one!” floral business owner Reed (Ashton Kutcher). If you do the math, Valentine’s Day‘s two hour ho-hummery gives–at most– 15 minutes of screen interaction per plot thread. When most films go the 90-120 minute distance to cover one romance alone, 10-15 minute vignettes (intercut with 8 more vignettes) just doesn’t give time to connect.
Flatly directed by the affable Garry Marshall (Pretty Woman, Runaway Bride), Valentine’s Day is a movie that’s numerically engineered– a Warner Brothers/Valentines Day Marketers of America play at nailing down Valentine’s weekend with a can’t-miss date movie. And while that’s not a recipe for failure, a cadre of stars who dully interact in a story that’s all about matters of the heart shouldn’t be so manipulatively fabricated that it never finds one of its own. We’re shown what Valentine’s day is supposed to be, but we never feel it.
And really, that’s Valentine’s Day‘s biggest disappointment. In 120 minutes, the film never accomplishes what Google did in less than one. Coated in the impermeable plastic sheen of connect the plot dot and run-of-the-mill direction, all relationships must conveniently contort their resolutions to time demands. The movie incessantly spoon-feeds its audience greeting card shallow platitudes like “Love means having to love the worst in your partner, no matter what!” and “Love- it’s the person you never thought it would be!” In a better, more focused film a few of these lines might work as emphasis, but writer Katherine Fugate’s script is all force-fed, sprawling shorthand. Nothing these characters do feels emotionally motivated. Their love-themed anecdotes strand themselves on time-encapsulated islands that leave actions and decisions little time to occur naturally.
The idea (again, as played far more engagingly in Love, Actually) should have been a delightful one– an attempt to flirt with love from its innocent inception to its bubbling, delirious teenage discovery to its rocky middle-aged realities to its aged and seasoned maturity. Instead, with such fertile ground to till Valentine’s Day flounders, dull and unfunny. When only half the audience laughs at a movie’s obvious jokes, something’s not clicking.
Valentine’s Day does have a few moments of emotional resonance– particularly the Julia Roberts thread– but they’re not enough to add any spark. Amidst its heap of otherwise charming stars, Valentine’s Day isn’t a total disaster, but only offers a blase postcard when it could have been a passionate love letter.