Just Like Heaven is a frothy, light romantic comedy. It covers familiar territory (live person/ghost romance) with a couple of variations to give it a slightly fresher feel than expected. One thing that keeps this film going is its solid storyform. Fluffy as the storytelling may be, the underlying structure and story dynamics make Just Like Heaven more than just a piece of angel cake.
Mark Ruffalo plays David Abbott (MC), a former landscape architect haunted by the death of his wife (MC Concern of The Past). Reese Witherspoon plays Elizabeth Masterson (IC), a woman driven by her single desire to excel at her job as a doctor, so much so she returns as a spirit after a head-on collision with a truck (Story Driver of Action). Unfortunately for her, she cannot remember who she is (IC Concern of Memories) and finds herself back at her apartment now occupied by David, a man unknown to her.
It turns out that David is the only person that can see or hear Elizabeth (OS Issue of Senses). They work to figure out who she is and why she is “haunting” David (OS Concern of Understanding). Those around David while he talks to Elizabeth think he’s nuts (OS Thematic Conflict of Senses v. Interpretation and OS Problem of Perception).
At first David and Elizabeth don’t believe each other. Each try to get the other to leave by various methods (Relationship Story Domain of Manipulation) including non-stop singing, voyeurism, exorcism (MC Approach of Do-er), etc. As in most romantic comedies, the two slowly fall in love and try to make their relationship work (Relationship Story Concern of Developing a Plan).
Bit by bit, Elizabeth finds little reminders of her former life (IC Issue Evidence). Some of it paints her in an unpleasant light (“She’s like one of those cat ladies…only without the cats.”) which is inconsistent with her current behavior (IC Counterpoint of Suspicion). After more digging, David and Elizabeth discover that Elizabeth is still alive and in a coma. It becomes a matter of life and death for them to find a way to get Katherine’s spirit into her body before her body dies (Story Limit of Optionlock).
As expected, David plants a wet one on Elizabeth’s lips just as she flat lines which brings the sleeping beauty back to life (Story Driver of Action). Upon awakening, Elizabeth has no memory of David. She resumes her life as it was before the accident (IC Resolve of Steadfast).
No longer paralyzed by his past, David builds a beautiful rooftop garden for Elizabeth without her knowledge (MC Resolve of Change). Elizabeth discovers the garden, asks David for the spare key, and when they touch (Story Driver of Action) she finally understands that she and David were meant to be together as her memories of her time in the coma flood back to her (Story Goal of Understanding, IC Concern of Memories). They kiss and embrace. (Story Outcome of Success and Story Judgment of Good).