Think about overlapping circles for a second. Or maybe hearts.
Those images offer the best visual metaphor for a movie like Valentine’s Day. The storytelling premise is one of compounding interest: If a romantically challenged couple can make for a compelling tale, how much more interesting might a dozen be?
And what could be a better hook than the emotional travails provoked by the year’s most romantic day? One lovelorn tale intersects another, then another, then another, and, well, it all picks up speed as this angst-filled saga arrows toward its predestined happy ending.
The hub that connects the narrative spokes (there’s another visual image in case my first ones didn’t work for you) in this particular ensemble comedy is an L.A. flower shop owned by a guy named Reed. Reed’s on cloud nine after proposing on Valentine’s Day morning to his girlfriend, Morley—a beautiful woman everyone but Reed knows is going to say no.
But she says yes.
So it’s the best Valentine’s Day ever.
Until Morley shows up at the bustling flower shop later that morning … sans ring. And sporting a case of seriously cold feet.
Game on. Game off. Such is the game of love.
It’s a maddening experience not only for Reed, but for virtually every other character. There’s Reed’s longtime friend Julia, for example, who’s finally found the man of her dreams: a dashing doctor who’s equally into her … or so it seems. On the other end of the dating spectrum is Kara, a successful publicist whose love life is as bland as her professional life is sweet.
And on and on it goes as we’re introduced to the rich and the not so rich, the young and the not so young, the straight and the gay, the beautiful and … the beautiful—all pursuing the most elusive of quarry: true love.
Cupid, it turns out, doesn’t discriminate in the way he inflicts pain upon those locked in his sights. Which is pretty much everybody in Valentine’s Day.
Valentine’s Day is the latest effort from director Garry Marshall, a man who has made a career out creating emotional, feel-good movies. (The Princess Diaries, Runaway Bride and Pretty Woman are among his credits.)
This go-round, friendship, faithfulness and the power of love are among the film’s virtues. Two longtime friends, for example, suffer painful breakups only to realize that they should be with each other. Predictable? Yup. But that tried-and-true plot device nevertheless wraps the finale in warm, fuzzy feelings.
More substantively, a grandfather tells a high school girl who’s planning on surrendering her virginity that he and his wife never had sex with anyone else. That proud acknowledgement then prompts a private confession with his wife (as they’re about to renew their vows) in which she admits she did in fact cheat on him—something she’s felt guilty about for years and wants forgiveness for before they go through with the ceremony. Though her misdeed is dealt with in superficial fashion, it’s clear her infidelity has wounded her husband and that long-term marital commitment is still worth pursuing. A parallel message is that real love requires accepting others’ faults when they fall short. (Though, as we’ll see, that ideal gets applied in some less-than-positive contexts.)
At the flower shop, Reed’s right-hand man is an aging confidant named Alphonso. He’s kind and patient as he tries to help Reed make sense of why Morley has left him. Alphonso also speaks highly of his own marriage. Though it’s not positive per se, we learn that Morley’s commitment phobia stems in part from her parents’ divorce—thus illustrating the reality that divorce damages children.
A touching storyline involves a female soldier flying back from her post overseas to get a few hours of face time with someone she loves.
The script is peppered with positive proverbs of a sort, like this advice Reed got from his dad: “If you’re ever with a girl that’s too good for you, marry her.” Another quote from Reed: “Love is the only shocking act left on the planet.” And when Reed asks Morley if she seriously considered his proposal, she responds, “When you ask a girl to marry you, do you want her to just consider it, or do you want her to just know?”
A character sarcastically says, “You need Jesus.” When two nuns volunteer to hold a woman’s baby while she pays for flowers, the woman says, “You should know that we’re Jewish.” One of the nuns replies, “God loves us all.” Another character tells someone, “Have a blessed day.”
Most of these Valentine’s Day lovers act as if sex is just what people who like or love each other do. The opening scene, for example, pictures Reed and Morley in bed. (We see her in a skimpy nightie.) It’s clear when they break up and she moves out that they’ve been living together.
Another couple, Liz and Jason, are also shown in bed. (He’s in boxers, she’s wearing only his shirt.) They allude to the wild night of sex they’ve enjoyed. Never mind that they’ve been dating for just two weeks. As their story progresses, Liz goes to great lengths to hide the fact that she moonlights as a phone sex provider. But the film doesn’t go to any lengths at all to shield audiences from her occupation: We hear very suggestive conversations laced with sadomasochistic and bondage references.
Eventually, Jason learns Liz’s secret. And he dumps her. But then he returns to tell her he’s realized he has to love even the parts of her life he’s not sure about. Ugh. When they reunite, both sing the praises of make-up sex. (We see her in a gauzy nightgown.)
Liz’s boss, meanwhile, hears her having a phone sex conversation at work—and tells her she likes how dirty Liz’s mind is. So much so, it seems, that the boss ends up having a similarly sleazy conversation with one of Liz’s “clients.”
Moving on: Grace and Alex are madly in love during their senior year of high school. They’ve planned all the details of giving their virginity to one another—and they begin to put those plans into action. They’re interrupted, and as Alex flees, the camera catches part of his bare backside.
The incident forces Grace to rethink their plans, and she decides that the time isn’t right for them to go all the way. Morality isn’t part of her picture, though. “I wanted it to be magical,” she says. “And it’s hard to plan magical.” She also speculates that she just wanted to use sex to bond with Alex before they went to college. Alex doesn’t force the issue, but says that at least they can still make out. (Which they do.)
Also in high school, Willy and Felicia kiss passionately several times.
Julia and her doctor boyfriend, Harrison, spend a night at a swank hotel. We see her in a camisole the morning after, begging him to stay longer. He doesn’t. And she eventually finds out why. Turns out the doc is married with children.
Two guys share a homosexual relationship. One of them is a celebrity of sorts who comes out very publicly near the film’s conclusion. Someone comments positively on the fact that they’ve found love. Then he cracks a veiled yet crude joke invoking gay sex.
We hear a passing allusion to a lonely woman using her cell phone as a sex toy. Other dialogue references a threesome.
Numerous camera shots show women’s cleavage, including one scene involving women in bikini tops and spandex pants exercising on a beach. Shirtless guys get similar treatment.
When Julia discovers that Harrison is married, she vents her rage by taking a bat to a heart-shaped piñata. Then she gets her revenge by posing as a waitress and serving him and his wife. Her over-the-top pitch of the restaurant’s menu focuses on an exceedingly graphic description of a “special” involving diced pig testicles. By the end of her screed, the doctor’s wife knows he’s been cheating.
Another angry woman hits and kicks her cheating boyfriend (once in the crotch). At track practice, a high school student painfully tumbles over a hurdle. There’s also a fender bender.
Three s-words and about a dozen exclamations of “oh god” or “oh my god.” We hear three or four uses each of “h‑‑‑,” “a‑‑” and “d‑‑n.” “Freaking” stands in for the f-word a handful of times. Two crude terms for the male anatomy are used.
Several scenes involve wine or champagne. At Kara’s “I Hate Valentine’s Day Party,” guests drink liberally and seem well on their way toward staggering intoxication. The man who learns that his wife cheated long ago responds by swigging from a flask.
Some of Reed’s Valentine’s Day advice is long on emotion but short on discretion. He advises Julia, “It’s Valentine’s Day. You don’t think. You just do.” Several characters try to cover significant character flaws with lies.
If practice makes perfect, Garry Marshall should be an Olympic champion in the sport of romantic moviemaking. Even when you know where his stories are going, they still usually work because he’s so good at making us all relate to deep yearning, rejection and the hope of another shot at love.
The appeal of those universal themes is further augmented here by an ensemble cast list that reads like a Who’s Who in Hollywood: Jessica Alba, Jennifer Garner, Ashton Kutcher, Anne Hathaway, Topher Grace, Jessica Biel, Emma Roberts, Julia Roberts, Eric Dane, Patrick Dempsey, Jamie Foxx and Anne Hathaway are all in this film. But wait, there’s more! Kathy Bates, George Lopez, Queen Latifah, Hector Elizondo and Shirley MacLaine also showed up to give Marshall a box of chocolates on Valentine’s Day.
And I still haven’t named teen country crooner Taylor Swift, who plays a caricatured, slightly manic but often hilarious version of herself. She dates (onscreen) New Moon phenom Taylor Lautner.
Man, talk about giving a movie a broad base of appeal. Who won’t want to see at least somebody in this flick? If only its overarching messages about sex were as tame as the theme song Swift penned for it (“Today Was a Fairy Tale”). To be sure, there are some positive messages about love and family. But the very humor and relatable situations that make Valentine’s Day endearing also make it harder to recognize the significant problems the film presents when it comes to the issue of physical intimacy.
Sex, we’re told, is just what people do when they’re into each other. Especially around Valentine’s Day. The only thing that matters is whether you’re “in love.” Married or unmarried, straight or gay, young or old, it’s a person’s feelings—not a marital commitment—that determine whether a sexual connection is sweet or sour.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.