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Love Happens


Pity there aren't more stringent "truth in labeling" laws for movies like Love Happens. From the film's title and its innumerable ads featuring stars Jennifer Aniston and Aaron Eckhart locked in a smiling embrace, one might reasonably assume Love Happens to be a charming romantic comedy, in which its two attractive leads bicker and flirt for a breezy 85 minutes before finally realizing that they're meant for each other.

That assumption would be catastrophically incorrect, for there isn't much comedy to be found in Love Happens. Nor is there much romance, for that matter. And come to think about it, there really isn't a whole lot of Jennifer Aniston, exactly one half of the aforementioned misleading embrace, to be found in the movie either. (Click here for Aniston's take on the matter.)

That leaves us with the obvious question: What, then, is Love Happens? It's a drama centering on the emotional journey of Burke Ryan (Eckhart), a handsome widower who parlays the tragedy of his wife's untimely death into a bestselling self-help book and a sold-out workshop tour, becoming something like the Tony Robbins of grieving. (He's even aped the walking-on-hot-coals gimmick from the toothy motivational speaker.)

Though his adopted career is a smashing success, not much else is well in Burke's world. Truth be told, he never truly reconciled himself with his wife's tragic passing, and has heretofore nursed his denial with a steady diet of alcohol and avoidance. That is until he runs into Eloise Chandler (Aniston), a refreshingly blunt free spirit whose own love life is marked by disappointment and heartbreak. Though just a humble florist with no apparent training in psychology, Eloise immediately sees through the confident, upbeat persona that Burke has carefully constructed. They can ease each other's pain, but the healing won't begin unless both of them are willing to let down their guard and let love -- wait for it -- happen.


In addition to Aniston and Eckhart, Love Happens' cast includes Dan Fogler (Balls of Fury) as Burke's smarmy agent and former college roommate, Judy Greer (27 Dresses) as (what else?) Eloise's quirky sidekick, John Carroll Lynch (Zodiac) as one of Burke's more skeptical workshop attendees, and Martin Sheen (Apocalypse Now) as his resentful father-in-law.


Misleading marketing aside, Love Happens writer/director Brandon Camp does make an earnest attempt to explore the grieving process of a man who has experienced unspeakable tragedy. Which is better than a saccharine, formulaic romantic comedy, I guess.


For all its serious intentions, Love Happens bears all the hallmarks of a slick studio rom-com, including stereotypical supporting characters (his irreverent wing-man, her goofy confidante), contrived comic relief devices (Sheen plays straight man to a crazy parrot!) and manipulative tugs on the heartstrings (too many to mention). The whole experience comes off as sort of a second-rate Cameron Crowe flick.


The climax of Love Happens includes a dramatic "slow clap," in which the lead character finally breaks down in a cathartic release of pent-up emotion and is rewarded with a slow-building round of applause from onlookers. That's pretty much all you need to know about this movie. rated this film 2 stars.