Year Released: 2005
Directed by: Mark Waters
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Mark Ruffalo, Donal Logue, Jon Heder
(PG-13, 95 min.)
"So, instead of getting to Heaven, at last – I’m going, all along." Emily Dickinson
Just Like Heaven is a pastry puff of a film complete with a plucky heroine, lovingly flawed sidekicks, and that wonderful almost too late awakening when the sweetly obtuse hero finally realizes he is in the full throws of love. It’s enough to make you believe in fate, true love, and happy endings all over again.
Inwardly grieving widower David (Mark Ruffalo) is very particular about the San Francisco digs he wants to lease. Forget the Fen Shui apartment, designer chic and minimalist to its core – so much so that David can’t believe it is “furnished.” The main thing David is looking for is a good couch to settle into, and he finds it in a month-to-month lease complete with fireplace, great view, and an entire rooftop to himself.
While these latter accoutrements impress his unctuous realtor, David settles into his comfort zone on the couch in front of the TV and piles up the empty beer cans poste haste. It is part of the lure of Ruffalo’s David that he seems so comfortable in his rumpled couch potato persona; you can almost picture this Wisconsin native wearing a cheese head hat and swilling them down at the stadium. And it doesn’t hurt that he has the everyman face of Jimmy Stewart, Tom Hanks, and John Cusack -- good looks anchored in average Joe authenticity.
Only it isn’t football that everyman David is watching as he laps up the brew, but old videos of a wedding – kind of like Bruce Willis’ wife in The Sixth Sense. He talks to dead people, too, or at least that’s what he thinks the pretty blond who enters his apartment is. Elizabeth (Reese Witherspoon) is so adamant that the apartment belongs to her that David at first suspects a rental scam, one where they take big down payments from several people at once. But when she starts to appear and disappear in his bathroom mirror, when she walks through the dining room table and anchors herself in the middle like some living bust, he gets other ideas.
Besides, she is a real pain at times – forever shoving coasters under all those beer cans, and popping up so frequently in his bathroom that he has taken to showering in his shorts. The overly broad comedic attempts to get rid of this spirit are a little much though, everything from a rather bungling exorcism, an Asian team of candle-burning spiritualists and even a half-hearted resurrection of the Ghost Busting Squad. Elizabeth speaks the audience’s mind when she steams, “Enough with Father Flanagan and the Joy Luck Club.”
What rescues the audience as well as Elizabeth from these caricatures is Darryl, the unlikely clerk at the local occult bookshop played by Napoleon Dynamite’s Jon Heder. Behind the “this is your brain on drugs” fixed stare, there really is a gift. In fact, Darryl is the one that straightens Elizabeth out on the real story behind David’s retreat from life. When she inquires, David tells her about his late wife with understated poignancy, remembering the maddening traits – she would push random buttons on the remote until it was hopelessly jumbled – that he missed so much now.
Elizabeth pulls down the mask for a moment, too. She stays with David, she confesses, because he is the only one who can see or hear her, and that is the only way she feels she exists. Finally, he decides to help her figure out who she is and why she is there.
Along the way, they quiz all of Elizabeth’s neighbors in the posh San Francisco apartments. As an outside observer to her life, Elizabeth now begins to realize there were things missing. No one remembers seeing much of her; in fact, some can’t even remember if their neighbor was male or female. The statuesque occupant of the floor above is very friendly, and finally Elizabeth thinks, here the friend who will confirm that she had a life. It turns out, however, that the leggy lady is really interested in her interviewer, David, as she all but drags him into her apartment to help her raise a “stuck” window.
What elevates this somewhat predictable film is partly a byproduct of its unlikely story – that of the friendship between a spirit and a living person, although some may wonder if David or indeed workaholic M.D. Elizabeth as she is portrayed before her crash on rain slicked streets would fit that latter category. What cannot exist is the physical, so the relationship moves forward at that old fashioned pace where exasperation is put on hold for a shared quest, small confessions crack outer veneers into hidden vulnerability, irritation at another’s presence gives way to longing for it, until, when it is almost too late, one must do the impossible to be rescued from a death of the spirit as well as the body.
The scene in Just Like Heaven that announces “I love you,” even more dramatically than his spoken words to that effect, is the solitary dinner David has at the apartment after he has seen Elizabeth for what he thinks will be the last time.
He starts to pour out a bowl full of chips to go along with the anticipated beer, but changes his mind mid stride. Instead, David dutifully fries up two perfect eggs and some broccoli to go with it, carefully setting a coaster under the crystal glass of ice water. Who said a nagging didn’t work?
Seriously though, David now wants to emerge from the dregs of his self- destruction. It has taken a “dead “ woman to bring him home from his own dead zone. He will no longer rely on the numbing alcohol, and this dinner signals his new determination to awaken from self-imposed lethargy.
But really, David, let’s not be quite that hard on yourself! At least put a little pizzazz in the veggies. This recipe is easy enough for a bachelor to cook up during commercials or half time at the longest.
Broccoli with Cheesy Mushroom Sauce
2 pounds fresh broccoli spears
3 tablespoons butter
4 ounces sliced mushrooms
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon prepared mustard
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 shredded mild Cheddar or American cheese
Cook broccoli in boiling salted water just until tender. Melt butter in saucepan; sauté mushrooms until tender. Stir in flour until smooth and bubbly. Stir in salt and mustard. Gradually add chicken broth, stirring constantly, until thickened.
Add cheese, stirring until melted. Pour sauce over hot cooked, well-drained broccoli. Sprinkle with paprika.
Recipe Source: Diana Rattray