A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this romantic comedy begins with a harrowing (though briefly shown) car accident, leaving a young woman apparently dead. She reappears as a neat-freak ghost in her old apartment, harassing the lonely garden designer who's moved in. Characters drink (at home, in a bar). A woman neighbor tries to seduce David by undressing in his apartment. The film also includes images of ghosts and spells in an "occult" book. Doctors and family discuss whether to continue life support for a woman in a coma. While most of the movie is light-hearted, it raises a serious question: how do you decide when to turn off life support for a loved one?
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What's the story?
Workaholic doctor Elizabeth (Reese Witherspoon) is slightly yearning; her friends have relationships, her sister Abby (Dina Waters) has two adorable daughters, and yet, Elizabeth can't seem to develop a life outside work. One night, she crashes into a truck; shortly afterwards, her apartment is rented by lonely, sensitive, landscape designer David (Mark Ruffalo). The only issue for this perfect guy is that he's mourning a lost wife, and so meeting the seeming ghost of Elizabeth gives him a built-in friend. As time goes on it becomes clear that they're made for each other, save for the small obstacle of her seeming deadness. David gets encouragement when an occult bookstore clerk (Jon Heder) suggests that for a spirit, she's very "alive," that is, caught between death and life.
Is it any good?
JUST LIKE HEAVEN is a Sleeping Beauty story refashioned to combine upbeat rom-com conventions and ER-lite medical-ethical dilemmas. It poses a grim question: Should a very nice young mother of two pull the life-support plug on her sister after three months of coma? It's a preposterous idea to cram into a romance.
And, while director Mark Waters is working with the completely charming and mostly convincing Reese Witherspoon and Mark Ruffalo, even this talented trio can't make this creepy perfect-ghost-girl idea go away. That doesn't mean they don't try.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the relationship between the sisters, as this creates the eventual dilemma/climax, as to whether Elizabeth should be taken off life support. How are they both loving and competitive, jealous and supportive? You might also consider the film's use of romantic comedy structures (boy meets girl, etc.) in relation to the ethical and even spiritual questions it poses, concerning life, death, and grief.
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