“Just Like Heaven” is neither terrific nor terrible. It’s nice filler between lame summer films and an impressive fall schedule. And it has some strengths. It has become obvious by now that time spent with Mark Ruffalo is time well spent. He has a certain quiet, infectious charm that over an hour or so turns to trust. This is not a man who sells himself; he just is himself, or so it seems. Each character he plays becomes Mark Ruffalo, so I’m not sure what would happen, say, if he were cast as Hannibal Lecter. But we don’t have to worry about that now.
As David, a widower sunk in depression over the death of his wife, Ruffalo is searching for the right place to hang his hat. When the wind blows a post-it real estate ad onto his trouser leg for the third time, we know this one is meant to be. He rents an apartment that belongs to Elizabeth, a rapidly rising doctor recently involved in a horrific automobile accident. From wherever she is at the moment – in heaven or a mid-station thereto – Elizabeth floats into her apartment, outraged that an interloper has taken possession. It falls to David, the new tenant, to try to convince her that she is dead, a good-natured process involving invisibility and floating through tables in a new form of slight-of-hand. After toying with the audience for an hour or so, the movie reveals Elizabeth’s bewildering status. After that, the tempo picks up considerably, pulling the audience comfortably into a story that in less appealing hands would have been a bust, a zero, a non-event.
It works as well as it does partly because of Ruffalo and Witherspoon, and at the point where a mediocre supporting cast could kill the whole thing, we are treated to just the opposite: a spunky, capable one that ensures our good spirits. Dina Waters plays Abby, Elizabeth’s older sister, with real feeling and intelligence, so much so that we begin to consider the subjects at hand which include living wills, death, and hospital care – but only for a few minutes. This is a comedy after all, a fairy tale really, and not a bad one. Jon Heder is David’s nutso extra-sensory counselor, an expert in the super natural who is all too happy to tutor David in his troubles. Donal Logue plays Jack, the familiar but always welcome loyal best friend who offers support even at his own peril when he knows what you’re doing is wrong. Don’t we all long for a friend like this? As a group, these actors make the movie sparkle when it should have sunk.
Perhaps we should just be grateful for a feathery light comedy that gives us time to breathe before the autumn avalanche of movies that will demand our emotional involvement in moral choices, tragedies, and family dilemmas. So enjoy while you can this covey of young people struggling with wisps of fantasy.
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