Does It Suck? takes a deeper look at pop cultural artifacts previously adored, unjustly hated, or altogether forgotten, reopening the book on topics that time left behind.
We may have lost director Garry Marshall in 2016, but we'll always have New Year's Eve, Mother's Day, and Valentine's Day—his films, not the holidays. (We'll always have the holidays, too, though not thanks to Garry Marshall.) These three films, the final three in Marshall's long and delightful career (Beaches, Pretty Woman, The Other Sister), were iconic for their simple yet declarative statement: I am a sappy movie made specifically to represent the base elements of a sappy holiday.
New Year's Eve was all about finding New Year's Eve kisses, Mother's Day was all about discovering motherhood, and Valentine's Day... well, to be honest, I had forgotten what Valentine's Day was even about. Until I re-watched it recently, it had only stuck in my mind as the "One Taylor Swift Was in When She Was Dating Taylor Lautner." It's also further proof that Marshall's later films were nothing if not a marathon of actors and actresses paying their dues to the lovable icon. From Kathy Bates to Queen Latifah to Jessica Alba, Valentine's Day is the elementary school mom's phone tree of a film; everyone calls a pal and asks them if they wouldn't mind doing a 15-minute-or-so stint in the latest Garry Marshall flick. "I mean, it's Garry Marshall for God's sake and what else could you be doing?"
This casting is a tribute to the guy who casted many of these same actors in the first place: Julia Roberts, Héctor Elizondo, Kathleen Marshall, and Larry Miller in 1990's Pretty Woman, the same group—but with Anne Hathaway swapping in for Roberts—in 2001's The Princess Diaries. Valentine's Day also plays with television casts: It's a That 70's Show reunion with Ashton Kutcher and Topher Grace, and also features Patrick Dempsey and Eric Dane who were at the time co-starring on Grey's Anatomy. Watching Valentine's Day is like watching something you've already seen before. It manages to feel overly familiar, even after the first watch.
A lineup of heavy hitters (Jamie Foxx, Shirley MacLaine, etc.) are paired alongside a lineup of not-so-heavy hitters (Alba, Jessica Biel, Lautner) in a movie that weaves together storylines featuring rose bouquets, giant teddy bears, an annual "I Hate Valentine's Day" party (the holiday, not the film), and an M. Night Shyamalan–quality reveal. Who knew a film so deeply based on heterosexual norms could think ever-so-slightly outside the box?
But before we get to outing Bradley Cooper's character, I have to admit that there is actually something slightly charming about these matchups. Valentine's Day almost feels like a celebrity summer camp where Garry Marshall is the counselor tasked with pairing together famous people for some sort of three-legged race. I mean, who wouldn't want to see Foxx make out with Biel? Or Kutcher with Jennifer Garner?
In case you forgot, here are some of the bizarrely charming pairings: Perpetually single Biel meets second-string sports reporter Foxx. Secret phone-sex operator Hathaway meets Grace. High schooler Emma Roberts wants to lose her virginity to boyfriend Carter Jenkins, while Swift harasses her real-life (at the time!) boyfriend, Lautner. MacLaine reveals to her longtime love Héctor Elizondo that she had an affair with one of his business partners. Asshole doctor Dempsey cheats on cheery elementary school teacher Garner… before Garner's idiot BFF, Kutcher, is left by his fiancé, Alba, and realizes he loves Garner instead. And finally, army captain Roberts meets Cooper on a plane—who is heading home to see his boyfriend, sports man Dane (who has recently made headlines by coming out of the closet). There's your big reveal, world.
These storylines all intersect in various ways that make you say "Ooh!" or "Ah!" or "Is this over yet?" But if you're into seeing any of these famous people kiss any of these other famous people, you're in luck. That is the essence of Valentine's Day. Well, that and when Foreigner's "Feels Like the First Time" plays right before Roberts and her boyfriend fail at having sex for the first time.
But the most important thing that Valentine's Day accomplishes is make you really think about love. Like a greeting card or an E.E. Cummings's poem, the movie reminds viewers that love is as universally basic as it is ultimately indescribable. "Love is the only shocking act left on the planet," says Kutcher, a line that becomes more quotable the less you think about it. Love brings people together, says Valentine's Day. We're really all just bit actors in an ensemble comedy, waiting to find our predetermined hand-casted match, and nothing is perfect. In Valentine's Day, the romantic ideal is how learning you're being cheated on by your hot doctor boyfriend turns into the perfect opportunity to figure out your best friend is in love with you (and you, him).
Unfortunately, the film remains as popular and generic as Valentine's Day itself. At $53 million, Valentine's Day had the second-biggest opening ever for a romantic comedy—right below Sex and the City 2.
And if you're still confused on whether Valentine's Day sucks (again, the movie not the holiday—which clearly sucks), I'm here to tell you that, definitively, it sucked the first time I saw, it and it still sucks. Sure, I would love to take my usual stance as Trash Lover, defending all levels of lowbrow camp, but as deep as I soul search, there's no way I can stand by Valentine's Day.
I'm sorry, Garry, but I'll be celebrating with Love & Basketball this year.
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