It’s a very special and especially icky romantic comedy that can distract audiences from the daisy-bouquet charms of Reese Witherspoon and get us musing instead about the last days of Terri Schiavo. But such are the jarring purgatorial properties of Just Like Heaven, a meet-cute contraption in which the pluck of a girl who may be dead on the outside but is lively of spirit on the inside resuscitates the emotional heart of a boy who’s alive on the outside but nearly dead of grief within. We seem invited to look at Witherspoon, playing both an inert accident victim named Elizabeth as well as the twinkling embodiment of Elizabeth’s perfectly ambulatory soul, and consider whether Ms. Schiavo, had she been shown the same consideration as the fictional Elizabeth, might have miraculously risen, dewy and pert, ready to sing ”Sweet Home Alabama.”
That Just Like Heaven succeeds at all — at least for teenage girls with limited interest in the drafting of living wills — is due entirely to Witherspoon’s can-do charisma, her tightly packed blend of city sophistication and country wholesomeness. Playing a San Francisco doctor whose devotion to work and family has left her no time for romance, the star hustles like Tinkerbell to keep the mood light. But the story just ain’t a floaty one, much as Mean Girls director Mark Waters and screenwriters Peter Tolan and Leslie Dixon insist it can be. As the guy Elizabeth is fated to meet, Mark Ruffalo brings his trademark sad cuteness/cute sadness, a look of despair that assumes more gravitas than fits a picture aiming for deathbed fun.