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New Comedy <i>Just Like Heaven</i> Features Romance with a Ghost

Can a lonely young man find happiness with a spirit that happens to be haunting his new apartment? That's the premise of a new film romance featuring Legally Blonde star Reese Witherspoon and Mark Ruffalo of 13 Going On Thirty. Alan Silverman has a look at Just Like Heaven.

Reclusive David rents a beautiful apartment in San Francisco, hoping for privacy to get over the recent death of his wife. But it's hard to dwell on his loss when, much to his disbelief, he finds he's sharing the flat with an ethereal roommate: the spirit of the previous tenant.

Or it WAS her apartment until a few weeks earlier when hard-driving young doctor Elizabeth was in a terrible car crash. Now she ... or at least her spirit ... has reappeared in her former home and the only one who can see or hear her is David, even though he turns to anyone from clergy to clairvoyants to solve the dilemma.

Reese Witherspoon stars as spirited Elizabeth and says the film reminds her of the stylish comic romances of a generation or two earlier.

"Definitely you have those elements of the male and the female characters sort of being very antagonistic toward the beginning, but being very strong characters and then sort of falling unhappily and unwillingly for each other," she says. "Also, I think there are elements of It's A Wonderful Life or something where you can really see your life from a distance and 'what if you had an opportunity to do it all again?' I like that idea."

Mark Ruffalo co-stars as David, a different sort of role for the actor who has made a name for himself in such independent dramas as We Don't Live Here Anymore or quirky comedies like The Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind. Ruffalo says romantic comedy is deceptively difficult.

"Yes, I think there are a lot of perils in romantic comedy," he says. "Rarely ever is it romantic or comedic, so going into one I just thought 'wouldn't it be great if we just kept switching the gears as deep and radical as we could?' Really do the comedy in an honest kind of funny way, but then when we go into the romance, have it just be deadly like Romeo And Juliet -type stuff.

Director Mark Waters had a hit with last year's high school satire Mean Girls, but he says Just Like Heaven is closer to his 2003 comic remake Freaky Friday, another story balancing on one almost unbelievable premise. In that case it was that a mother and daughter could switch identities; but in both cases, Waters says his challenge is to make everything else seem real.

"Even though you have this one fantastic concept, by playing everything else straight you lend some credence to the proceedings," he explains. "If you don't have anything else in the movie seem fantastic except for the one twist, then the audience will go along with it. So we have our one big thing: she's a spirit and she's in this apartment; but once you get beyond that, everything is played dead straight. She's this woman who hates the fact that she has a squatter in her apartment and he's a guy who rented this place and can't handle the fact that he has a roommate he doesn't want. That's the comedy of the movie. It's basically this odd couple session and it just so happens that half of the odd couple is not there."

Just Like Heaven also features Napoleon Dynamite star Jon Heder in a scene-stealing performance as the medium who gets the message.