With Aaron Eckhart, Jennifer Aniston, Martin Sheen. Directed by Brandon Camp. Rated PG-13 for some language including sexual references. 109 minutes.
LOVE HAPPENS might seem to be a romantic comedy, but in spite of some humorous moments, it really isn’t. It’s a drama about a man coming to grips with tragedy in his life, and how a new romance is part of it. In spite of some slow spots, audiences taken by the two leads will find it an entertaining diversion. It’s the sort of movie where if you step out for some popcorn, you won’t be worrying about what you missed.
Burke Ryan (Aaron Eckhart) is a self-help motivational speaker with a best selling book written after the death of his wife three years earlier. His focus is on helping people getting on with their lives after a tragic loss but the irony is he’s been using this newfound career to avoid coping with his own loss. His business manager (Dan Fogler) has persuaded him to do a week in Seattle, where he hasn’t visited since the loss of his wife.
There he meets Eloise Chandler (Jennifer Aniston) a florist who is unlucky in love. One of the flaws of the film is that while she’s given some quirks (like writing obscure words behind paintings in the hotels she supplies) she’s not a well-developed character. This is Burke’s story. He’s taken by her and gradually wins her over, but this first experience with romance in three years stirs up all those unresolved issues. Eventually love – and honesty – brings everything to a happy conclusion.
Perhaps the most interesting thing of the film is not the romance, but the idea of coming to terms with the loss of a spouse or other loved one. Much of what Burke offers is not fortune cookie advice but a sensitive understanding that grieving has to end and life must go on. In a quite moving subplot, he deals with one of the reluctant participants at his seminar (a wonderful performance by John Carroll Lynch) who has lost everything after the death of his 12-year-old son. This story proves much more engaging than the romance.
Eckhart has played his share of heels and it’s nice to seem him play a likeable, if flawed, character. Another subplot involves his freeing his wife’s pet parrot, and it’s awkwardly handled, even ignoring the question of whether a caged parrot should be freed. It’s salvaged by an amusing punchline, expertly underplayed by Martin Sheen, as Burke’s former father-in-law. As Eloise, Aniston does not get to stretch her acting skills, although if you’ve enjoyed her other non-“Friends” performances you’ll presumably like her here. The problem is less in the performance than with the writing, as she has very little to do except act as a foil to Burke.
“Love Happens” is a serviceable romance about dealing with life’s tragedies. It’s not a must-see, but with some nice performances and some scenic views of Seattle, if you wait until it comes to cable, it’s pleasant enough.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Brookline.