Love Happens (United States, 2009)

September 19, 2009
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Love Happens Poster

Is this a movie or a feature-length advertisement for Qwest? We're not just talking one product placement; this brand name is nearly omnipresent.

The title Love Happens is a play on the common phrase "shit happens." However, while the "shit" may have been removed from the title, it pollutes the screen. This is a maudlin romantic dramedy whose every frame reeks of artificiality. While that characteristic is kept somewhat in check during the film's first hour, it spirals out of control during the final third, rendering the climax and conclusion nearly unwatchable. On the way to the expected happy ending, Love Happens uses clich├ęs and improbable occurrences to resolve everything so simply and cleanly that it threatens to trigger the gag reflex.

Love Happens is being inaccurately marketed as a "romantic comedy" when, in fact, it's light on the laughs. In fact, the narrative comes closer to a Lifetime weeper than a sitcom. There are some awkward attempts at comedy, many of which fail. For the most part, however, first time director Brandon Camp is content to keep things on the serious side. That would be okay, of course, if his take on the subject wasn't so facile as to border on insulting. Movies that address material of this nature should have the courage to do so in an honest fashion.

Burke Ryan (Aaron Eckhart) is the author of the bestselling A-Okay, a self-help manual for those who have lost loved ones. Burke wrote the book in response to his wife's death, which happened three years ago, but his life is a template for not practicing what he preaches. When he arrives in Seattle, where he and his wife used to live, to facilitate one of his popular seminars, he finds himself confronting the past in the person of his father-in-law (Martin Sheen). Meanwhile, he meets Eloise (Jennifer Aniston), a local florist, who catches his interest. After a rocky first couple of encounters, they go out on a date-that's-not-really-a-date. But Burke's inability to effectively process his wife's death threatens everything - his potential relationship with Eloise, his lucrative seminars, and a potential TV/DVD deal being worked out by his agent, Lane (Dan Fogler).

Had Camp shown the gumption to address Burke's issues in a believable fashion, Love Happens might have been less galling. However, because the filmmakers' desire is to make the movie as accessible as possible, everything has been reduced to sugar-coated, bite-sized pieces that will go down easily. Burke achieves his catharsis by means that would only work in a motion picture. All he needs, apparently, is the love of a good woman, the helping hand of a friend, and an arena in which he can confess his shortcomings. In this movie world, that's all that's necessary to overcome three years of hypocrisy and buried grief. The movie is equally insulting in the way it addresses the pain of loss and guilt suffered by Walter (John Carroll Lynch), who isn't coping well with the death of his son.

The performances are fine. Eckhart brings as much humanity to Burke as the artifice-laden script will allow. He never feels like a real person, but that's more an issue of the way the character is written than the way he is played. Jennifer Aniston's involvement, like the entire romance, feels shoehorned into the production. She's one of several catalysts for Burke's transformation, but the movie might have proceeded in pretty much the same way without her. To his credit, at least Camp doesn't force something hot-and-heavy down our throats. Although Burke and Eloise develop a connection, there's no horizontal action. The best performance belongs to John Carroll Lynch in a supporting role. We actually feel for this guy - Lynch makes Walter's grief palpable. Judy Greer (as Eloise's best friend) and Martin Sheen are underused.

Love Happens makes the mistake of trying to soften what should be a frank, difficult movie by grafting on an unearned feel-good ending. Films of this sort work when we feel like we've traveled with the protagonist on a path of healing; in this case, steps have been skipped and the whole thing is a cheat. Those searching for another Jennifer Aniston rom-com will likely be unsatisfied; the romance is tepid and underdeveloped. There's little to like about Love Happens, and quite a few reasons to stay away.

Love Happens (United States, 2009)

Director: Brandon Camp
Cast: Aaron Eckhart, Jennifer Aniston, Dan Fogler, John Carroll Lynch, Judy Greer, Martin Sheen
Screenplay: Brandon Camp & Mike Thompson
Cinematography: Eric Edwards
Music: Christopher Young
U.S. Distributor: Universal Pictures
Run Time: 1:49
U.S. Release Date: 2009-09-18
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1