Despite its gooey marketing campaign, Just Like Heaven is a grim affair, linking two emotionally dead people and then having the nerve to make one of them truly, madly, deeply dead. We've seen this sort of thing before, and better done, too, but Just Like Heaven nimbly sidesteps the abundant clichÃs through sheer dint of acting skill.
Mark Ruffalo, the thinking-woman's romantic ideal, is David, a heartsick widower who leases the hilltop home of the late Elizabeth (Reese Witherspoon), a workaholic physician whose connection to the here and now was severed in a squeal of rain-slicked brakes one foggy Frisco evening. It takes the appearance of Elizabeth's spirit to wake David from his doomy reverie. Together the pair embark on a quest to discover who Elizabeth was ' her memories of her past life are hazy ' and, wouldn't you know it, fall in love in the process.
Director Mark Waters helmed the bitchy comedy Mean Girls, but Just Like Heaven hasn't a barbed bone in its body, relying instead on the polished scriptwork of longtime comedy writers Peter Tolan and Leslie Dixon. Ruffalo does intellectual gloom like no one else these days and here hones his comic skills to razor's edge. He's buoyed by the exuberantly winning Donal Logue and Napoleon Dynamite's Jon Heder, who mumbles his way through a friendly-psychic role with knowing lids forever at half-mast.
Just Like Heaven has a manipulative streak, and you'd have to be stone-cold dead not to grasp the inevitable outcome long before the third act, but it's a professionally handled sort of emotional manipulation dating back to Blithe Spirit. And in the face of the actors' charms, it's very difficult to resist.