With all due respect to the heinous-looking one-two punch of Endless Love and Winter’s Tale, which have seemingly arrived in theaters this Valentine’s Day to torture impressionable romantics nationwide, there is one film so grossly saccharine that it rules the V-Day crap-movie roost. I’m talking about Valentine’s Day.
This 2010 film was a lame attempt at mimicking the star-studded rom-com conceit made famous—or infamous, depending on your taste—by 2003’s Love Actually. Only this time, the action was set in California and boasted a plethora of bizarre, chemistry-free star couplings. Yes, Garry Marshall’s Valentine’s Day managed to fleece unsuspecting audiences of over $216 million worldwide, but it’s a film that will live on in infamy for its gag-worthy scenarios and awful romantic clichés. It serves as living proof that no amount of A-list stars can make up for crap filmmaking.
The list of stars (who probably placed angry phone calls to their agents after the premiere) appearing in the film includes: Jessica Alba, Kathy Bates, Jessica Biel, Bradley Cooper, Patrick Dempsey, Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, Anne Hathaway, Ashton Kutcher, Queen Latifah, Taylor Lautner, Shirley MacLaine, Emma Roberts, Julia Roberts, and, last but not least, Taylor Swift (making her film debut).
“From the director of Pretty Woman comes a day in the life of love,” read the tagline, with pictures of all the stars nestled inside a giant heart. Aww.
Valentine’s Day achieved this ridiculous cast (and a $50 million budget) by “boarding”—a regrettable Hollywood strategy whereby a huge star works on a movie for just a few days, with all of his or her scenes blocked out for a speedy shoot. So, instead of paying a star’s full quote, producers can wrangle them at a fraction of the cost, and still get to capitalize on their name and any press they do on behalf of the film. It is, essentially, a way for an actor to mail in a performance, have their name attached to a surefire hit, keep their pricey quote, and pick up a nice chunk of change for a few days’ work. According to Vulture, distributor New Line Cinema paid Roberts “$3 million up front against 3 percent of the gross for what is little more than an extended cameo. That comes out to an astonishing $8,333 per second of screen time, or roughly $500,000 a minute. Verbally, it's a minimum of $11,952 per spoken word.” Roberts worked on the film for just three days, but after she signed on—presumably as a favor to her Pretty Woman director, Garry Marshall—the dominoes fell one by one, and A-lister after A-lister joined the fray.
The film’s central character is Reed, a nice-guy flower shop owner played by Ashton Kutcher (groan) who’s struggling with the dilemma of whether or not he loves his girlfriend, Morley (Jessica Alba), who kinda-sorta rejects his marriage proposal (you don’t blame her since the proposal itself is basically word vomit—delivered by Ashton Kutcher).
“Everyone is romantic on Valentine’s Day!” boasts Reed. “Why not always be happy? It’s Valentine’s Day. You don’t think. You just do.” He adds, “This girl is sunshine. Everything is better when she’s there.” This is the quality of writing we’re dealing with here.
Meanwhile, Liz (Anne Hathaway) is a phone sex operator who’s desperate to pay off her student loans any way possible. She’s apparently always on the clock, performing phone sex in public restaurants, on sidewalks, you name it. Her student loans are, it seems, more important than being known by everyone in L.A. as “that crazy woman who’s always having phone sex in public” (paging Obama!). She’s a phone sex virtuoso, performing in a series of bad accents, from Russian to Southern. When her boyfriend (Topher Grace) finds out, he’s completely turned off. But then, after spending some time gathering his thoughts in a cemetery (really), he comes to his senses, and tries to win her back. “You’re stupid if you turn your back on something as important as love,” he says. But Liz is crazy, so instead of swooning, you’re left wishing this nice fella had stayed as far away from her as possible.
Grace (Emma Roberts) is trying to lose her virginity to her high school boyfriend on Valentine’s Day since, she says, “It’s Valentine’s Day, we’re in love, we’re both 18, I want it to be special.” Seriously? Later with Grace, the film plays the song “Feels Like the First Time” by Foreigner. The music choices in Valentine’s Day are painfully on the nose.
Oh, there’s also Kara (Jessica Biel), beautiful publicist to a closeted gay football player (Eric Dane, a.k.a. “McSteamy”), who collapses in her office because she can’t fathom how she is alone on Valentine’s Day. Being single on Valentine’s Day is, in the world of Garry Marshall, a true Shakespearean tragedy. The only relationship she’s managed to foster is with her phone: “My closest relationship is with my Blackberry … thank God it vibrates!” she exclaims. The “I Hate Valentine’s Day” party she eventually throws is complete with actual picture burning.
Julia (Jennifer Garner), an elementary schoolteacher, thinks she’s found the man of her dreams in Dr. Harrison Copeland (Patrick Dempsey, as a doctor of course). He even sent her a wind-up heart toy with a card that said, “While I’m fixing hearts, you can hold mine.” Gross. She heads to San Francisco to surprise him on a business trip but—surprise!—he’s not on business, but married. So, Julia does the only natural thing in this comedy of errors—poses as a waitress and exposes the dreamy doc in front of his wife. (Later, she winds up with Kutcher’s Reed, which makes absolutely no sense.)
Oh, and lest we forget Army Cpt. Hazeltine (seriously, who came up with these names?), played by Julia Roberts. She’s seatmates with Holden (Bradley Cooper) on a flight and there’s palpable chemistry there. In fact, this is the only coupling in the film that makes any sense. But do they end up together? No. It’s revealed that Roberts is headed home to see her son, while Holden is headed to see his boyfriend (the aforementioned closeted football player). Why he was heavily flirting with her the entire flight is anyone’s guess.
But the thread of Taylor Swift, a high school cheerleader, and Taylor Lautner, a high school track star, is the most nauseating of all. They constantly hurl pet names at each other. Swift gets her lucky number ironed onto his track shirt. He gets her a giant stuffed teddy bear that she parades throughout L.A. The lines—by both actors—are delivered as if they were read from an off-camera teleprompter, and the chemistry is non-existent. It’s a wonder that these two “dated” in real life. At one point, a news anchor describes their young love as “ignorant to reality,” which should’ve been the film’s tag line.
There are other subplots, but they’re too inane to even mention. Valentine’s Day hops from star to star—and thread to thread—so quickly it’s entirely disorienting. None of the subplots coalesce, with each and every one distracting from the other. And nearly every minute of the film oozes with vom-inducing V-Day cheer.
The late, great Robert Ebert said it best: “Valentine's Day is being marketed as a Date Movie. I think it's more of a First-Date Movie. If your date likes it, do not date that person again. And if you like it, there may not be a second date.”
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