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Valentine's Day By the Numbers

Valentine’s Day has everything you could demographically desire in a marketing campaign. The movie, well, that’s another story.

Warner Bros.

So here’s what drives me nuts about Hollywood, what sticks in my craw, frustrates me to no end, makes me want to swear off the multiplex after decades of devoted movie junkie-dom, throwing down my hard-earned, recessionally downsized cash at the box office: Movies like Valentine’s Day.

Valentine’s Day is the worst kind of cynically constructed, demographically engineered, paint-by-the-numbers piece of poppycock imaginable. It’s cobbled together with bits from movies past, from Crash to High Fidelity to Four Weddings and a Funeral to He’s Just Not That Into You to Love Actually. In fact, it’s Love Actually redux, from the motherless kid to the sex workers to the guy frantically running through the airport. Except that Love Actually was set in London right before Christmas, and Valentine’s Day is set in Los Angeles, on, um, a different holiday. Then there’s this: Love Actually, while heavily formulaic, worked. It was actually good. Valentine’s Day, also heavily formulaic, does not work. It is, actually, not good. At all.

This being Los Angeles, director Garry Marshall (Pretty Woman) and those faceless studio execs made sure that they had every potential marketing demo covered. And since it’s an ensemble comedy, acting-wise, no one has to do any heavy lifting. Everybody wins! For the tweens and the teens, we have the Two Taylors (Swift and Lautner). For the guys, there’s Anne Hathaway and the Four Js: Julia (Roberts), Jennifer (Garner) and Jessica and Jessica (Alba and Biel). For the ladies, there’s Ashton Kutcher, Bradley Cooper and Grey’s Anatomy’s McDreamy and McSteamy (Patrick Dempsey and Eric Dane).

Then, for the senior set, there’s Shirley MacLaine and Hector Elizondo; for the Latinos, there’s George Lopez, Elizondo and a bleached-blond Alba. (Ca-ching! Cross marketing!). For the South Asians, there’s a now-obligatory Bollywood dance scene, and, for the colored folks, we’ve got Jamie Foxx and Queen Latifah. (There’s even a little love shown to the LGBT folks, too.)

But beneath all this feel-good, 21st-century, We-Are-The-World, faux egalitarianism, beats a retro heart. (A heart that apparently functions a lot like John Mayer’s “David Duke” man bits.) Here, white folks, particularly white women, serve as the main love interests, while people of color are relegated to the sidelines, throwing out one-liners or dispensing words of wisdom for the clueless pale people. Then there’s Queen Latifah, in a class of her own, taking the angry black woman meme to another level: “They call me Bipolar Paula,” she snarls, “Don’t.”