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“Love Happens”
Reviewer:
Chris Pandolfi
Studio: Universal
Genre:
Drama
Release Date:
2/2/10
Special Features:

Feature commentary / deleted scenes / featurette

Review:

“Love Happens.” I can’t think of a title that better encapsulates the conventions of a Hollywood romance. In stories like this, love just sort of happens, usually between people who seem so different yet magically have a lot in common. Burke Ryan (Aaron Eckhart) is a widowed author and self help guru who tries to deal with everyone else’s problems but can’t seem to deal with his own. Eloise (Jennifer Aniston) is a florist whose track record of bad relationships has hardened her heart. They eventually meet, and ... well, it doesn’t take a degree in cinema to see where this is going. ***

“Love Happens” isn’t an especially bad movie; in all honesty, there are aspects of it I thought worked well. But on the whole, it’s really no different from any of the countless love stories released year after year, the characters broadly drawn, the plot sappy and hopelessly predictable. ***

Taking place in Seattle, which may or may not be a reference to the fairy tale romance of “Sleepless in Seattle,” “Love Happens” is at its best when the focus shifts from falling in love to coping with loss. The most interesting relationship is not the one between Burke and Eloise, but between Burke and Walter (John Carroll Lynch), a former contractor who lost everything after the death of his twelve-year-old son. ***

Burke, whose wife died in car accident, understands Walter’s pain. But because Burke has omitted a few details, understanding is not something he projects; for the most part, he sounds like your average self help celebrity, spouting generalizations and prefabricated messages for improving your life. What great conflict – we have two men unable to move forward, yet one behaves as if he has. Because of that, he thinks he can instruct other people on how to do it. ***

But that’s not what this movie spends most of its time on. Burke meets Eloise by accidentally bumping into her in the hallway of a hotel, where she has just written the word “quidnunc” on the wall behind a painting. (In case you’re wondering, quidnunc is a real word. It means a busybody, or someone who interferes in the affairs of others.) ***

She has a tendency to write out long, obscure words like that, although for the life of me, I have no idea why. This is, quite frankly, a very peculiar quirk, and yet it has virtually no bearing on the rest of the plot. So why bother bringing it up? Even if it was a vital plot point, what would it ultimately prove? That she’s both pretentious and a vandal? Fortunately, she does have more redeeming qualities, such as collecting and copying sentimental Thank You and I Love You cards sent with flower arrangements. ***

What’s easy enough to understand is the fact that she has finally broken up with her rocker boyfriend after he cheated on her yet again. Her cynicism and distrust reaches a new level when Burke approaches her and asks if she would like to have a cup of coffee or something; in response, she pretends to be deaf by mimicking sign language. ***

Needless to say, they will meet again and slowly begin the process of building a relationship. In order for it work, however, Burke will have to let go of the past. A large part of this involves working up the courage to confront his father-in-law (Martin Sheen), who sees Burke for the hypocrite he is. ***

Is Eloise the one person who can give Burke the nudge he needs? Is Burke finally ready to let the healing begin? And what about his career? His agent, Lane (Dan Fogler), has introduced him to powerful media and marketing people who want to see him on television pitching various products. Of course, he will be paid handsomely for it. So it becomes a question of whether fame and fortune are more important than lifelong happiness. ***

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. I do give this movie credit for telling the occasional joke without resorting to desperate comedy, which is more than I can say for recent Hollywood romances like “The Proposal,” “Made of Honor,” and “27 Dresses.” ***

The unfortunate tradeoff is that “Love Happens” is at times weepy and melodramatic, more so than necessary a story about trying to move forward. The most intense outpouring of emotion comes near the end of the film, when Burke and his father-in-law finally say what they’ve been meaning to say for a long time; it’s a cathartic moment, no question, but at the same time, it isn’t even remotely plausible. To be fair, the entire premise isn’t even remotely plausible. As I said earlier, love just sort of happens in stories like this, which is probably why audiences tend to favor them. ***

Special Features:

Along with a feature commentary from director/co-writer Brandon Camp, producer/co-writer Mike Thompson, and executive producer Richard Solomon, this DVD includes a selection of deleted scenes and the featurette “Giving Romance a New Look.” The film is presented in its original 2.35:1 widescreen format and features Dolby 5.1 Digital sound.

Final Words:

Most will be drawn to Eckhart and Aniston, who have surprising onscreen chemistry despite completely different performances. Still, when a non-romantic relationship between two grieving men is more compelling than a blooming romance between a grieving man and a distant woman, your goal of making a classic Hollywood love story has yet to be achieved.

 

 
 
 
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