[Screen It]

"LOVE HAPPENS"
(2009) (Aaron Eckhart, Jennifer Aniston) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: Upon meeting a florist shop owner, a successful grief counselor and motivational speaker reluctantly realizes he must apply his recovery techniques to himself to deal with his wife's death from three years earlier.
PLOT:
Burke Ryan (AARON ECKHART) is a widower of three years who accidentally parlayed his grief into a successful career as a grief counselor and motivational speaker. In fact, he's so good at what he does, his manager, Lane Marshall (DAN FOGLER), is on the verge of landing a potentially lucrative business deal to market Burke's work and brand.

Yet, Burke isn't happy that meeting or his next seminar will take place in Seattle. After all, that's where he and his wife once lived, and he's had no contact with her parents, including her ex-Marine dad Silver (MARTIN SHEEN), since a car accident took her life. Even so, Burke is committed to helping his clients, such as Walter (JOHN CARROLL LYNCH), a former contractor whose 12-year-old son died in a past accident.

Knowing that Burke is solely focused on his work, Lane encourages him to get out there and live. Taking that advice to heart, Burke decides to approach Eloise Chandler (JENNIFER ANISTON) who runs a florist shop with her lone employee, Marty (JUDY GREER), and delivers arrangements to the hotel where Burke's A-Okay seminar is being held.

As they get to awkwardly know each other, Eloise eventually realizes that while Burke is successful at helping others, he's never fully helped himself. From that point on, she tries to convince him to take some of his own medicine and advice so that he can finally move on with his life.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
It's often said that doctors make the worst patients. Yet, it's unclear if that's due to them being know-it-alls who think they're smarter than the physician working with them, or if they simply don't follow their own advice or literally and figuratively take their own medicine.

Accordingly, one starts to wonder if something like that spills over into other vocations. Do cars owned by mechanics end up breaking down due to lack of regular maintenance? Are there accountants who are late or simply refuse to file their taxes? And do motivational speakers and self-help coaches suffer from low self-esteem and/or lack the get up and go to, well, get up and go?

Something along the lines of the latter is what fuels the storyline of "Love Happens." It's a well-intentioned and occasionally emotionally effective romantic drama that otherwise suffers from a number of cinematic ills that ultimately undermine the overall effort.

Working from a script he co-wrote with Mike Thompson, writer/director Brandon Camp (the son of Joe Camp who helmed the "Benji" films all those years ago) is in no hurry to tell his tale, which turns out to be both a plus and a minus. On one hand, it's a welcome change from all of the frenetic storytelling that dominated much of the offerings of the summer of '09. Yet, that approach also occasionally makes the film feel labored and far longer than its 110-some minute runtime.

While the pic's marketing makes it appear to be a standard romantic drama where the guy and gal get equal time in dealing with their budding love affair, in reality this is far more about the dude coming to grip with his issues. Aaron Eckhart is fairly good playing Burke Ryan, a grief counselor and motivational speaker (apparently modeled, in part, on Tony Robbins) who's proficient helping others but, natch, can't manage to swallow his own medicine.

A widower of three years, he literally runs into a comely floral shop owner played by Jennifer Aniston who doesn't end up stretching her thespian wings much in this rote role that isn't terribly different from what she's done before. The filmmakers take their time in getting the two together, with some bits of humor thrown into the mix, but little if any of it's remotely memorable and it barely registers on the charm meter.

It certainly doesn't help that the chemistry between the two performers is lukewarm at best, or that genre conventions and clichés eventually start piling up like so many tissues the studio is probably hoping will be shed (since female auds, you know, are supposed to be suckers for these sorts of tear-duct activating flicks).

Granted, the film does hit some decent emotional notes, particularly regarding John Carroll Lynch playing a father long guilt-ridden over his son's accidental death sometime in the past. And while the sequences featuring Eckhart interacting with Martin Sheen as his removed-by-death former father-in-law lack the same level of punch, a related bit about the family parrot is cute, funny and then, sorta/kinda heartbreaking.

But then the sappy music starts, the montages keep coming, and completely predictable plot developments arrive on cue. The obligatory third act break-up is the worst and most forced, although it's nearly bested by the scene featuring one character who slowly starts clapping for one person's courage, eventually inducing others to do the same until it's vigorously done by all in attendance. Is that supposed to be a joke? After all, it's so goofy, has been overused and reeks of over-the-top, faux profundity that it's even been satirized in one of those parody films a few years back.

So, we're left with a flick that occasionally works in some individual moments but otherwise doesn't gel into a satisfying whole. That said, viewer reaction might vary greatly, with dyed-in-the-wool cynics likely loathing it with every bone in their bodies, while diehard romantics might be able to overlook some or maybe even all of those issues.

Just having the right intention doesn't automatically equal artistic success, and should I ever get the chance to make films, I promise I won't forget my criticisms here and thus make the same mistakes that occur in "Love Happens." The film rates as a 4 out of 10.




Reviewed September 15, 2009 / Posted September 18, 2009


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