Film Review: Valentine's Day

A collection of intertwined romances with the fleeting “aww” factor of a candy sweetheart.

The movie Valentine’s Day bears more than a little resemblance to the holiday itself. People who love the hubbub of Valentine’s Day will probably coo over the movie as if they just received a giant stuffed animal from their significant other. To those more cynical or resentful of the superficial aspects of Valentine’s Day: You have my warning, steer clear.

Featuring interlocking stories in the style of He’s Just Not That Into You and Love Actually, Valentine’s Day rarely gets farther along than “Roses are red, violets are blue.” When teased apart, each of the character’s adventures in romance could be summed up in a few sentences or less. With so little screen time for the characters, it’s do or die. Taylor Swift, unfortunately, is one of the casualties. In a small role opposite Twilight heartthrob Taylor Lautner, she manages to screw up the stock character of ditzy/snobby high schooler. Her bizarre amalgamation of “likes” and repetitive speech patterns makes Lautner look Oscar-worthy.

On the other end of the spectrum, Jennifer Garner charms with her dimples, red-and-white polka-dot blouse and sweet, elementary school teacher earnestness. If she believes so much in true love, well, gosh, she should have it! Her storyline, which involves her dating a cad when her true love is right in front of her, allows for a fairly typical revenge scene but not much else, but Garner’s charisma makes her a pleasure to watch.

Anne Hathaway wins points for the second-most engaging storyline. Guided by Garry Marshall, who directed her in her first feature, The Princess Diaries, she plays a poetry graduate balancing her side job as a phone-sex operator with a relationship with an agency mailroom assistant (Topher Grace). Answering the phone with goofy Russian and Southern accents, her voice-sex peddling poses an entirely surmountable threat to their budding relationship.

Rounding out the bunch, Ashton Kutcher plays a busy florist opposite Jessica Alba, his commitment-phobe girlfriend. In a shout-out to the “I Hate Valentine’s Day” crowd, a publicist friend of Garner’s (Jessica Biel) throws an anti-Valentine’s Day party and flirts with a TV sportscaster on assignment (Jamie Foxx). Moving beyond the thirty-something romances to capture a broad age demographic, the movie includes puppy love and a couple on the verge of a golden anniversary. An appropriately adorable elementary student (Bryce Robinson) is on a mission to deliver flowers to his true love, and his grandparents (Shirley MacLaine and Hector Elizondo) share relationship advice with his after-school nanny (Emma Roberts).

The movie also tackles teen sex and includes a gay romance, but with a superficiality that seems preachy. High school senior Emma Roberts, who has decided to have sex with her boyfriend (the line “We’re both eighteen” seems to be for the benefit of the audience), reconsiders after their initial plans fall through. The coming-out speech of a sporty, hyper-masculine character seems directed at an imagined conservative oaf. For a sappy one-note nod to the troops, look no further than Julia Roberts as an army officer coming home to see “her man.” With so few scenes to cover these stories, it’s no wonder any nuance has been abandoned in favor of stereotypes.

The choice of professions, too, is confined to the showbiz bubble: an agent, a publicist, an agency mailroom assistant and temp, a retired actress, a sports star, a TV reporter and a nanny. Only the teacher, florist, doctor and soldier lie outside of the Hollywood fold. While romantic comedies have long been populated with glamorous occupations held by few, story authors Katherine Fugate, Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein would have been well-served to consider moving outside their own office.

Despite these flaws, the movie should have no trouble attracting audiences, at least during the holiday weekend. When Valentine’s Day comes around, sometimes your only option is to sit around with an assortment of waxy chocolates, even if the ritual leaves you with a stomach ache and a lingering wish for Godiva.