With a cast that seems calculated to appeal to every possible demographic, Garry Marshall’s eponymous ensemble piece feels very much like a patriotic riposte to Richard Curtis’s Love, Actually.
We begin the day as flower shop manager Ashton Kutcher proposes to Jessica Alba, setting in motion a pacy exposition of the lives of a group of Los Angelinos as they set about celebrating St Valentine’s Day. They’re a depressingly good-looking bunch, so it’s with some relief that we learn all is not as it seems in their tangled love lives. Anne Hathaway (reprising her character wholesale from The Devil Wears Prada) is juggling a new job, a burgeoning relationship with mailroom man Topher Grace and a sideline as a phone sex operator. Jennifer Garner has fallen in love with a doctor who is hiding an awkward secret. And Hector Elizondo plans to renew his wedding vows with doting wife Shirley MacLaine, unaware that an event from her past is about to catch up with him.
Not all the couples are afforded enough screen time. Man-of-the moment Bradley Cooper and Marshall’s former Pretty Woman Julia Roberts languish in an underwritten subplot which exists solely for a final-act payoff. And a recurring shtick featuring Taylor’s Swift and Lautner is cynically crowbarred in to attract the teens. Worse are the coincidences which conspire to bring characters together in a way only a film featuring a last-minute airport dash could contrive. One massive moment of serendipity (enabling Garner to exact a spot of revenge) is explained offhand with astonishing nonchalance.
Yet it’s not entirely without charm. Kutcher – a name synonymous with mediocrity – is actually quite affecting in what is effectively the lead role. He carries the bulk of the story with a vulnerable likeability, making him one of the few truly sympathetic characters. It also manages to avoid the lurches in tone which plagued Love, Actually, although that’s because it keeps its course firmly in the middle of the road. While the countless shots of buff male torsos never let you forget who it’s aimed at, there’s just enough substance to keep cynical partners from nodding off.