It’s the most beloved and reviled day of the year, but somehow director Garry Marshall manages to make one big star-studded party out of Valentine’s Day, in which a huge roster of actors crowds the screen with intersecting story lines about love on its annual day of honor.
Despite the pretty faces and perfect teeth, none of these characters has it easy — at least, for the first two acts of the film. The movie opens with scenes of sunrise in L.A., and there’s the building excitement of Christmas morning, but with far more at stake than packages and pancakes and certainly more firing hormones than could ever be stirred by Santa. Our first couple to kick off the holiday is Morley (Jessica Alba) and Reed (Ashton Kutcher), gorgeous young things who live where people start their day paddling in kayaks, and apparently proposing marriage. Reed’s ecstatic when his lady says yes, and trots off to his flower shop with his pal Alphonso (George Lopez) in a pink delivery van, happily setting the upbeat, ribbon-tied tone of the film. It’s V-Day, alright, and everyone’s letting it all hang out.
The flower shop becomes the hub for many of the stories. Everyone from the hunky doctor (Patrick Dempsey) to the resident cute kid show up to buy their Valentine’s flowers, and Reed becomes a lynchpin of sorts, unwittingly meeting some of his fellow film characters and learning secrets he wish he hadn’t. Criss-crossing through the stories in the skies above are the coy Capt. Kate Hazeltine (Julia Roberts) and the dapper Holden (Bradley Cooper), who have a charged dynamic as their flights heads to L.A. Along the way there’s also the local sportscaster (Jamie Foxx), vying to become the city’s top TV personality, the histrionic sports agent (Jessica Biel), plus studio mailroom boy Jason (Topher Grace), who’s trying to cook up a last-minute V-Day date after a steamy start with Liz (Anne Hathaway), who has a secret to keep under wraps while being wooed. Older folks aren’t left out: Shirley MacLaine and Hector Elizondo’s adoring couple arguably have the biggest hurdle to clear, which provides both comedy and poignance, even if the resolution milks it for all it’s worth.
Adequately entertaining as a whole, the individual pieces of Valentine’s Day are less than complete but peppered with enough feel-good moments, chuckle-worthy scenarios and pretty people to be as addictive and empty as candy hearts. Taylor Lautner and Taylor Swift are over-the-top teens and making out! Ashton’s so cute when he’s kissing awkwardly! And who wouldn’t want to do a sing-a-long with Jamie Foxx, or soak in the spectacle of Eric Dane’s shirtless abdomen on a Malibu morning? The trials and tribulations of each set of these aesthetic specimens weave in and out of each other with expert pacing and peppy music to cue the emotion. There are break-ups and disappointments, anxiety and missteps, but this is Marshall’s Hollywood after all, and by day’s end, everything is wrapped up in a glittery, slick package that’s been polished by the master of big films of about life, love, loss and romance.
Still, no matter how gooey some of the scenes get (and it gets downright gelatinous in parts), somehow Valentine’s Day never sparks the excitement of Pretty Woman, or the tear-jerking of Beaches, both previous works from the director. The film retains Marshall’s overall tone and stylistic approach to film, but has an updated, modern feel that sets it apart from his past works, and serves as the backdrop as the characters reach for love, talk about love, lose love big-time, or simply lose themselves in it. The film is a fun romp filled with energy and slick settings and optimism. But amid all the fuss above love, Valentine’s Day somehow never finds its heart.