I have one tried-and-tested remedy for stress. It comes much to the consternation of everybody around me, but I have absolutely no shame about the fact that when the going gets tough, I go on Netflix and find a rom-com. As the reality of lockdown sunk in, I had but one solution: to find myself a nice, light-hearted rom-com, and pretend the world wasn’t going to hell in a handbasket outside.
Calling Just Like Heaven “nice” or “light-hearted” might be a bit of a stretch – but I think that its weirdness is precisely why it was the right choice. I didn’t feel like I was entirely trying to avoid reality, but instead, making some sort of peace with it.
The reason I say this film is weird is because it essentially has the premise of a horror film. If you were to read an isolated plot summary, that is exactly what it sounds like. It is Paranormal Activity: the rom-com. The film begins with Elizabeth Masterson (Reese Witherspoon) finally achieving her hard-earned dream of becoming an attending doctor (after 26 hours on rotation in the hospital), only to end up in a car crash. We then meet David Abbott (Mark Ruffalo), a widower who moves into her old apartment, only to end up haunted by Elizabeth’s highly-strung ghost. They even manage the classic “shut the mirror and there’s a GHOST behind you!” shot in a surprisingly tongue-in-cheek moment. This film opens with a depressed and alcoholic widower who moves into a haunted house; stop me if you think you’ve seen this end badly.
Except, in a phenomenally odd move, the whole thing is played for laughs. It’s a rom-com, after all. The usually terrifying demand of “get out!” becomes a running joke as Elizabeth expresses her deep horror that such an unkempt man could be inside her house. David tries to exorcise her in a series of gradually more amusing ways as she stands watching, and as they get used to each other’s presence, comedic banter builds between the two.
Possibly the only reason I decided to watch a rom-com that looked this cheesy was the presence of Mark Ruffalo. I love Mark Ruffalo, and nothing gives me more joy in life than watching 13 Going on 30. In this film, he gets to utilise his comedic chops and his charisma with Witherspoon is part of what makes this film so compulsively watchable. It’s hard to stop smiling watching the two of them bicker.
And Witherspoon herself does a great job, switching easily from moments of comedy to moments of sadness as the emotional weight of the plot settles back in. Even the filmmakers can’t avoid the implications of, well, ghosts. But this is a rom-com, so if the film ever gets a little too sad, we get right back to the comedy. God bless.
Worthy of a mention for being the film’s general strange hero is Jon Heder, who plays the slacker owner of an occult bookshop with mediumistic tendencies. His chill works in great contrast to the two very stressed-out protagonists – and, hell, it’s Jon Heder. Surely there can be no film ruined by having Napoleon Dynamite present.
So, in conclusion, if you try to ignore the fact that at one point someone tries to steal a body, Just Like Heaven is a pretty fun ride. Is it a tour de force of filmmaking? No. But will it cheer you up? Absolutely – and that’s what we all need right now. Sit down, grab some popcorn (if there’s any left), and treat yourself to a rom-com. You deserve it.
Image: via torange.biz