Dear Garry Marshall,
Normally I would address an open letter like this to the mystical Whom It May Concern, but in this case I see fit to direct this missive to you. I say this for only one reason: you should know better.
As per my mother’s teachings, I’d like to open up this message with the good. There’ll be time for the bad and the ugly later, but for now, let’s talk about the unsinkable Jamie Foxx. Even in a terrible film, he still can’t be dragged down. He delivers some genuinely funny lines even if his storyline doesn’t really matter or make sense. There are, admittedly, even a few moments that work really well. Nothing sweet mind you, but still a few things that make for decent comedy.
And then there’s the other 120 minutes.
Speaking of which, I’d like to start by going over some simple math with you. You have 21 characters in this bad boy, and with 125 minutes of screen time (assuming that you pair them up), you end up with each story pair getting a whopping 11.9 minutes of screen time. You have a little less than 12 minutes to tell each story. It might have been fine – like a series of interwoven shorts – if the writing had been tight as a drum and the acting hadn’t spared a minute. But both spared everything.
I have to assume that you didn’t have anyone there to do this easy formula before the entire damned affair got started. No one on set with a Masters degree in mathematics or anyone who passed the crucial Different-Shaped-Blocks-Into-Different-Shaped-Holes Test. And that’s not your fault. It’s our school systems.
So let me see if I have the plot about right: A ton of people in Los Angeles wander around half-asleep on the screen saying ‘I Love You,’ kissing, breaking up, making up, getting angry, and sad or lonely and then the credits roll and everyone picks up their paycheck. Is that about right?
You’d expect me, perhaps, to rage at this point, but I let my anger subside while thinking about your film, and I realized that the honest reaction is one of pity and awe. The pity, because it’s obvious by the sheer volume of post-production, off-camera dialogue and side gags added that you knew you’d made a terrible film. At least someone did. And a Hail Mary clean-up job was called for. It didn’t work in the least, but at least someone tried, and it’s nice to know that the effort was there at the end despite its shocking lack of presence near the beginning.
Going back to math, I would have traded all twenty-one of those stars for two good actors. Hell, if you really wanted a challenge, do four main characters. Or six. But twenty-one? Ironically, I barely even noticed there were that many because their story lines were all basically the same.
As I said before, I’m in awe. You’ve achieved something incredible with this movie: you’ve managed to capture the spirit of Valentine’s Day in film form.
Your movie is as cheap, commercial, insincere, mandatory, mass-produced, smirking, lazy, and perverse as the holiday itself.
At this point, Mr. Marshall, you can stop reading if you’d like because I know that you know how to make a good movie. However, here are a few things to remember for whoever it was that really made this trash.
When the entire movies is character’s saying exactly what they are doing or thinking, you might as well just have one of them sit in a chair and read the script directly to the audience. Movie’s are a visual medium. That means you get to show things. The best example is how Kutcher’s and Garner’s characters keep reminding us that they are really great friends who are always there for each other. We never get to see an example, but they seem trustworthy enough to take their word for it. Still, I’ve gone ahead and re-written a scene (that you can feel free to rehash for the New Year’s Eve sequel):
Ashton: We are such good friends. We are very close and care about each other a lot.
Garner: I know. I wonder if we will end up realizing we should be romantically involved.
Ashton: If we do, it’ll probably happen before the movie is over.
I realize this is a bit more complex than what you had to work with in VD, but I have faith that you can make it work. I could go on, but everything seems as obvious as your plot points that were dragged lifelessly across the screen. Taylor and Taylor had to be in it by studio decree despite not doing anything the entire time. You treated each twist and turn as if it was a monumental revelation even though it was either obvious or a cliché.
Your worst offense there, not to continue harping on you, was your only good sequence in the film. Julia Roberts plays a Captain returning from commission seated next to Brad Cooper’s character on a plane. They converse segment after segment about how lucky her man is because she’s traveling 13 hours to see him for just a few moments, then traveling back another 13. It’s sweet, but instead of doing the natural thing, and writing a normal character, you keep her mysteriously silent about her man. Excuse the spoilers, but what mother wouldn’t want to gush about her son at that point? What mother wouldn’t be unloading about how great he is at soccer, and how smart he is in school, and how much she’s missed him like crazy since she’s been gone?
But no, instead of creating a real human character, you just have her stare at Brad Cooper’s character every time he mentions how lucky, how damned lucky, what a lucky man she has waiting for her at home. You couldn’t even come up with a decent response. And by you, I mean the writer, and by writer, I mean the hitchhiker you picked up on I-10 and hired to craft the film.
The good news is that even though you’ve made a truly vomitous, boring, dull, pointless movie that celebrates love the way the average American celebrates tax season – it’ll still make a ton of money.
So, I guess what I’m saying is, Good Job.