Prayer Focus
Movie Review

Just Like Heaven

MPAA Rating: PG-13-Rating (MPAA) for some sexual content

Reviewed by: Sheri McMurray

Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Teens Adults
Romance Comedy
1 hr. 35 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
September 16, 2005 (wide)
Featuring: Reese Witherspoon, Mark Ruffalo, Donal Logue, Dina Spybey, Ben Shenkman
Director: Mark Waters (“Freaky Friday”, “Mean Girls”)
Producer: David Householter, Laurie MacDonald, Walter F. Parkes
Distributor: DreamWorks SKG
Copyright, DreamWorks SKG Copyright, DreamWorks SKG Copyright, DreamWorks SKG
Relevant Issues
Copyright, DreamWorks SKG

What is the significance of the New Age Movement? Answer

What is the Occult? Answer

THE OCCULT—What does the Bible say about it? Answer

What kind of world would you create? a short, enlightening discussion of paradise, our world, Heaven and the New Heavens and Earth—Go

Am I good enough to go to Heaven? Answer

ARE YOU GOING TO HEAVEN?—a 30-minute on-line video that starts out with a thought-provoking question, then moves on to a well-reasoned and well-illustrated explanation of sin, humanity’s need for salvation, the purpose of Christ’s death, the Bible, faith, heaven, hell and how to be sure you are going to heaven.

Teen Qs™—Christian Answers for teenagers
Teens! Have questions? Find answers in our popular TeenQs section. Get answers to your questions about life, dating and much more.

It’s a wonderful afterlife.

Pop Quiz: What does “Ghost,” “Heaven Can Wait,” and “All Of Me” have in common? Give up? It’s DreamWorks’ new movie “Just Like Heaven.”

Elizabeth (Reese Witherspoon, so captivating not just in beauty but behavior) is a dedicated doctor who has no life outside the hospital. She works 26 hour shifts and is up for the position of Attending Physician. She is thrilled to learn she has won that most revered post on the same night her sister has invited her to dinner and the prospect of the perfect guy in yet another arranged blind date.

Already late, Elizabeth is preoccupied with her car stereo, and while fiddling with the channels, her car is hit by a truck.

As incandescent clouds float over the Golden Gate bridge we are lead to our next character searching for an apartment to let. As his energy is running out, after viewing apartment after uncomfortable apartment, David (a gentle and convincing Mark Ruffalo) is slapped in the face by a very persistent ad floating on the breeze, for an apartment which he just happens to be standing right in front of. David finds this apartment, furnished with the perfect couch, is “perfect.”

The next thing Elizabeth knows, some man is in her apartment, messing up the furniture and putting rings on her walnut coffee table with sweating beer cans. She does not realize that three months have gone by, her apartment has been sublet, and that no one can see her but her new tenant, a sad and lonely man named David.

As David, manifestly confronted with Elizabeth’s supernatural presence, consults Darryl (Jon Heder from “Napoleon Dynamite”), the clerk in a psychic bookstore, and tries to confide in his unbelieving best friend Jack (Donal Logue), he becomes more frustrated with the fact he cannot get rid of her nor help her get back “to the light.” David brings in a priest for a painfully overacted exorcism and employs some pretty funny Ghostbusters (theme and all), and attempts recitations from the books, but nothing seems to work to support or advise her.

As time goes by, Elizabeth realizes she is spirit, but refuses to accept she is dead. She has a form of “ghost amnesia” that must be cured and employs David to help her solve the mystery of her spirit form as well as find out who she is. In a movie like this there is no logical reason for such matters. They simply are, and you are asked to accept them.

The fun is in the investigating, as this romantic comedy turns and twists in sweet and sometimes bittersweet ways. As Elizabeth and David try to find out who she is and what is going on, they both realize that neither one has been fully alive in their respective lives. Each must find a way to rescue the other to find a way for them to be together before, as the production notes say, their prospects for a future together permanently fade away.

“Just Like Heaven” works, and so we accept everything, even the scene where a man is unconscious on the floor of a restaurant and Elizabeth tells David the man’s lung is leaking air into his chest cavity, and he must open a hole with a paring knife and keep it open with the plastic pour spout from a vodka bottle. As the chest is vented and the victim breathes again, Elizabeth jubilantly remembers she’s a doctor.

They race to the hospital, only to find Elizabeth’s body on life support, in a coma from the horrible car accident three months ago, and teetering between this life and the next.

We meet Elizabeth’s sister Abby (Dina Spybey) who has the unnerving right to sign a form which will allow Elizabeth to pass away out of her coma and out of David’s Earthly life. Elizabeth’s two little nieces who can see or at least feel her, and her dedicated friends and co-workers who help David find Elizabeth’s body in the hospital, frozen in a coma after the accident, barely clinging to life, not to mention the creepy doctor Rushton who took over her job when she became a spirit and is trying hard to convince Elizabeth’s grief stricken sister to take Elizabeth off life support. He encourages Abby by spouting she “Ask God’s forgiveness and not prolong the inevitable.”

Can Elizabeth and David, who are now in love, take steps to return her to a corporal existence that will make their relationship immeasurably more satisfactory? Will David’s best buddy, Jack, who also is his analyst, help him with an incredible plan to save Elizabeth so that she can join him in the present? Can one movie support these many coincidences and close calls and still keep your attention? There is a contest between what we want and what the characters do, and we get involved in spite of ourselves. The ending is a great round of twists, so as not to take away from it’s impact, I will let you see for yourselves. All I can say is it’s not disappointing, although you probably can see it coming.

“Just Like Heaven” is based on the book “If Only It Were True” by Marc Levy and directed by Mark Waters, who made the venerable “The House of Yes” and the serviceable “Mean Girls.” His film is a fairy tale, and he meshes it with a mixture of familiar, easygoing songs (“Just My Imagination” and the “Ghostbusters” theme) and biting humor, including a slap at “The Exorcist.” Which satisfied me, because that movie is so demonic I won’t even go there. At least nothing in “Just Like Heaven” is treated as fact, as far as the physic element goes, and that’s why comedies work better with the occult, because they poke fun at it instead of giving it a nod as fact.

Parents should know that this film has some crude language which includes 2 h*ll, 3 a** (in different forms), 1 use of the word “slut,” 1 sh*t, 2 references to God: “Oh, my God,” someone giving “the finger,” brief non-sexual (comic) nudity, and some sexual references. Characters drink, including excessive drinking to numb pain and a description of drinking a lot of Margaritas as being fun. A character punches another in the nose, and there are tense scenes.

Some viewers may be disturbed by the question of “pulling the plug.” While it is certainly a good idea to have a balanced life, for a moment this movie seems to suggest that failing and getting drunk are better than working hard and making a contribution. In the end, though, the characters learn who they are and what are the best things in life to help make them productive and whole again. To it’s credit, there is not a dark moment in the movie, unless of course you take the plot seriously, in which case it is deeply tragic. Unfortunately, a Christian alternative is never suggested as the ultimate healing for all broken hearts.

A relevant strength of this movie is its portrayal of a man who turns down a beautiful and willing woman who offers him sex because it would interfere with the relationship he hopes to have with someone else. A Christian quality running through “Just Like Heaven” is how these characters love each other and treat one another with respect and affection. The love between Elizabeth and David proves over again that true love blooms only after two people get to know one another as friends before there is a physical relationship.

Families who see this movie should talk about their own end of life wishes. They should also talk about how we can achieve a balance between working for the future and taking time to appreciate the present. We only have this one chance in this world to give the gifts of the saving grace of Jesus and love to those who mean the most to us.

Another thing to discuss is the very real fact that there is no such thing as a “disembodied spirit” like Elizabeth’s character has. That The Scriptures emphatically forbid any contact with incantations, mediums, the spirit world, etc. and any who venture to trust in the occult instead of the True Word of God has sinned .

“Just Like Heaven” (as the name suggests) is not just like heaven, for there is no heaven on Earth until Jesus comes back to claim it and rule forever. Then the New Jerusalem will come to Earth, and in Heaven all true followers of Christ shall be forever.

Make no mistake, although I liked this move and it is, after all a fantasy and a “ghostly” love story akin to the classic “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir,” we need to know that Proverbs warns we can be deceived into believing we are doing the right thing (as when David sought out the psychic book store for help instead of Scripture) and yet be heading towards spiritual destruction. People do not naturally seek God or pursue righteousness (Rom. 3:10-18). Only the Spirit awakens our hearts to the Person of Christ so that we see we need God’s leading in unanswerable situations. Our most profound human thinking is mere foolishness (1 Cor. 1:18-20). Only God knows the way that leads to Eternal Life (not any spiritual medium or divinations can do that).

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death (Proverbs 16:25). Only God knows the way that leads to life and to Heaven itself, and He wants to lead us to walk that way (Matthew 7:13-14)!

Violence: Minor / Profanity: Mild / Sex/nudity: Minor

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.

Viewer Comments
Positive—I can’t see how anyone couldn’t like Reese Witherspoon when cast in a romantic comedy type of role. She nails it every time. Yeah I know Legally Blonde 2 was a bomb, but more because of a poor script and not her performance. Many critics who didn’t like “Just Like Heaven” say it doesn’t make sense, how, if she is a ghost could she possible ride in a car without disappearing under the seat but walk through walls? Yeah I know it doesn’t make sense. It really doesn’t have to. It’s a fantasy, comedy film fluff that doesn’t take itself too seriously, but its ultimate message about finding true love and getting a second chance make up the heart of this film. Minor language, innuendo here and there, and a suggestive scene with the neighbor gal coming over trying to initiate sex, but thankfully our hero declines.
My Ratings: Average/3½
Tom Becker, age 37
Positive—This is your average, formulaic chick flick/date movie/etc. It does have a lot to do with the Occult but it doesn’t seem to be promoting it in any way. I liked this movie because there was little profanity and all sexual references were implied. The only nudity was that of an old man’s derierre in a hospital wing. It was cute, sweet, and the first time I ever saw Mark Ruffalo in a film. Reese Witherspoon practically stole the show herself. The ending is predictable but really awesome!
My Ratings: Average/3
Shannon H.
Positive—…overall I enjoyed it. It was a somewhat typical rom-com but it did have an entertaining cameo by Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite). Despite some sexual referances and some mild language this movie was overall clean. Although the occult stuff, I did not find funny. Overall, I recommend this movie to anyone in the mood for some laughs.
My Ratings: Average (somewhat offensive) / 4
Daniel, age 23
Positive—My husband and I saw this on a date night. We enjoyed it for it’s mindless entertainment value. We enjoyed the story mainly because of the twist halfway through. Reese Witherspoon is a delight to watch and Mark Ruffalo was believable as a guy who is really freaked out about this girl who keeps popping up in his apartment. Definitely not a movie to look to for accurate information the afterlife, (Really, it’s NOT “just like Heaven”) however, I did appreciate David trying to save Elizabeth from the punk Doctor’s attempt to pull the plug.
My Ratings: Average (somewhat offensive) / 4
Leigh Anne, age 38
Positive—…I thought the movie contained a strong pro-life, anti-euthanasia theme. And I didn’t really see any occult problem, since the character was not dead. The only part that I found distasteful was the exorcism scene, which made the priest appear quite foolish…
Laura W.
Negative—I’m usually not this hard on movies, but after seeing Sweet Home Alabama and loving it I was extremely disappointed with Just Like Heaven. Right off the bat, I noticed how made-for-TV-ish the movie felt. The acting was bad, and the plot had a few holes in it (one minute should couldn’t touch him, the next she’s tossing him out of the bar). Just Like Heaven could’ve also skipped all the occult stuff and the promiscuous neighbor in the bedroom scene as well. The acting got so bad, and the plot so unbelievable that I ended up walking out about 2/3 of the way through. Other than my loss of $8 for the ticket, I don’t think I missed anything by leaving early.
My Ratings: Average / 2
Shawn, age 35
Comments from young people
Positive—My mom and I had some free tickets to the movies, so we decided to use them on “Just Like Heaven.” I had no high expectations because most every romantic comedy has to have some sort of sexual scene/content. This movie exceded my expectations. Not only did it not have a sex scene, but the one of the main characters rejected a couple attempts of this one girl. There were a few cuss words and a scene where some blood is shown, but other than that, it was a clean, fun movie to watch. I applaud the directors for not putting any of that vulgar material that is common to most romantic movies. I highly recommend this movie to anyone who wants to watch a fun romantic movie that is also clean!
My Ratings: Better than Average / 3½
Stephanie Nill, age 13
Positive—I saw this movie with a bunch of my friends. I was expecting a somewhat cheesy romanti-comedy, but I was instead pleasantly suprised. This movie positively shows that euthanasia is wrong, and also has elements of what seem like almost divine intervention. (i.e. the notice for the apartment keeps blowing back to the lead, david is the one who finds the apartment that shouldn’t have even been open, and so on.) I would highly recommend this movie because it shows that everyone’s life is valuable, and that no one should be terminated if they are still hanging on to life. However, this film is not for young children. Even though the innapropriate language is kept to a minimum, the film still deals with the complex issues of love, euthanasia, and what happens to us after we die. All in all, I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone under 12.
My Ratings: Good/4½
Leah Kucera, age 14
Positive—I am not usally one of those people who see romatic chick flicks, but I saw this movie thinking that it was predictable like those Linsay Lohan films or “Legally Blonde”. I thought I related to Mark Ruffalo’s character in the movie wanting to forget about his relationships. But I was proven wrong by this movie. It was the best film I saw so far besides “Wedding Crashers”. I recommend this movie to any Christain to see and be sure to expect to see a familiar “Napoleon Dynamite” and believe you won’t be disapointed…
My Ratings: Good/5
Justin, age 16
Positive—I thought this movie was really good. …we had a really good time. Sure, having Elizabeth as a spirit is inaccurate, but I don’t really care. There were quite a few parts where I laughed out loud and still laugh when I think about them. And of course I like Reese Witherspoon. I think she’s a great actress, and she did very well in “Just Like Heaven.” I thought the part with the priest was funny mainly because he was completely missing her, and she was just standing there watching him. I can’t say I’d advise young children to go because it could be confusing, but I’d recommend it to anyone else.
My Ratings: Good / 4½
Sammi, age 15
Positive—This was such a great movie! at first, seeing the preview, it’s like, “oh great, just another silly romance movie with no real essence” but no. this movie had such great depth and twist and turns. it keeps you tuned in the whole time. I could not take my eyes off of the screen. it was beautiful. the whole entire thing. It kept you glued, and my whole family agrees that when your watching it, it’s like your a part of the movie itself. that’s how much it jumps out at you, it draws you in. it’s definitely not a movie you can fall asleep to. It took the theme of comedy/romance and made it something unique and interesting. It was so well acted too. Reese Witherspoon was amazing. This was her best role yet. And Mark Ruffalo played his character so well, and his acting was so true through the whole thing. I HIGHLY reccomend this movie to everyone. I also loved how this movie wasn’t so “predictable.” It was different, and that made it great. …
My Ratings: Good / 4½
Amy Gibson, age 15
Positive—I loved this movie, for what it was. It was a light-hearted film that wasn’t morally offensive. There were a few cusses, and using the Lord’s Name in vain. No naked people or anything, but suggestive. …There was a pretty woman who tempted the male charater, but he refused. Had comedy in it. Reese Witherspoon did a fabulous job. …CONS: The whole ghost thing is a bit freaky, and unChrsistian, but they don’t say they believe in it. It’s a fantasy romantic comedy. Entertainment. The bookstore owner was a fabulous actor. It was extremely well done. …
My Ratings: Better than Average / 5
Alli Panella, age 14
Movie Critics
…The movie works… [3 out of 4 stars]
Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert
…sweetly romantic dromedy for tweens and teens—the proverbial “date flick,” if ever there were one—with at least a ghost of a chance of entertaining crotchety adults, as well…
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Barry Paris
…way too sweet …Some audiences won’t be able to resist the likable leads and a love story determined to conquer death itself. Critics will spend much of their time carping about how the movie rehashes every ectoplasmic romance ever made…
Detroit Free Press, John Monaghan
…director… Mark Waters… has pretty well delivered just what young PG-13 girls carrying that extra pack of Kleenex will expect…
USA Today
Reese Witherspoon and Mark Ruffalo have their moments but are done in by a manipulative, cloying script…
Los Angeles Times, Kevin Thomas
…can’t overcome the movie’s fundamental, fatal flaw: a basic lack of chemistry between the film’s two lead performers…
Crosswalk, Christian Hamaker