Valentine's Day. Just the mention of it is likely to elicit squeals or groans—strong emotions that the makers of Valentine's Day the movie were no doubt trying to tap into with their star-studded opus to the charged day. But it's unlikely the movie will elicit such strong feelings. It's the candy equivalent of a conversation heart that reads "UR Sweet." There are worse things to be called, but the Greek king did not launch his thousand ships to tell Helen of Troy she was sweet.
Set in a spit-shined Los Angeles on the eponymous day, Valentine's Day follows roughly two dozen Angelenos as they grapple with their love lives, or lack thereof. Sienna Bouquet, a floral shop and café, serves as a rose-strewn center of gravity for the interlacing narratives. And its proprietor, Reed Bennett (Ashton Kutcher), is the leading man, if you wanted to try to pick one out. On this particular morning, he's rolled over in bed and proposed to his girlfriend Morley (Jessica Alba). When he leaves the house for work, hands held high in boyish exuberance, he's the picture of romantic optimism. As Reed tells his waiting employee and best friend Alphonso (George Lopez), he proposed on the perfect day. He can be as happy and sappy about love as he wants to be and no one can complain because it's Valentine's Day. And together they drive off in the Sienna Bouquet delivery van to greet the day with their floral arrangements.
Of course, people can complain. Valentine's Day includes the unlucky in love too. But given that chief among these ranks are the successful and drop-dead gorgeous Kara (Jessica Biel) and the friendly and no-less-beautiful Julia (Jennifer Garner), it's hard to feel like unlucky in love gets a fair shake. As Reed's best friend, Julia also gets a good chunk of the screen time. Unfortunately for her, she's soon to learn that her could-he-finally-be-the-one boyfriend Dr. Harrison Copeland (Patrick Dempsey) is no McDreamy. Fortunately for us, the scene in which she confronts the lout in a controlled fit of rage is one of the most entertaining in the movie.
There are some genuine laughs and a few twists sprinkled in, but Valentine's Day turns out to be a predictable rom-com made mildly entertaining by the novelty of its A-list cast. It wants to be Love, Actually, but it doesn't have the magic. Which is not to say it doesn't have good performances. Anne Hathaway has a remarkable talent for accents (employed here in her work as a phone sex operator), Julia Roberts brings grace and gravity to her role as an Army captain enroute to a mysterious meeting, and Taylor Swift is, like, totally hilarious as a twitterpated teenager. But you have to suspend so much disbelief in the course of the movie it's hard to actually relate to or care about these characters. The frenetic pace that the movie has to maintain to fit everyone in doesn't help either.
The movie gets mixed marks for its messages on love, too. As a committed couple for 51 years, Edgar (Hector Elizando) and Estelle (Shirley MacLaine) provide a compelling example of fidelity. But more modern thinking rules the day when it comes to attitudes about sex and dating. As high schooler Grace (Emma Roberts) says, "It's not like I'm going to sleep with one person for the rest of my life. Who does that?" Grace and her boyfriend Alex (Carter Jenkins) had made special plans to go home during their lunch period to lose their virginities to each other earlier in the day. Those plans were thwarted (You'll never see the reason coming. Oh wait, you will.), and the couple eventually decides to put off having sex. But their reasons for doing so sound more like a combination of laziness, fear, and unreasonable expectations for "magic" than a thoughtful, responsible decision. They're not so convincing as the abstinence-is-a-valid-choice couple that they were probably intended to represent.