One of the great challenges facing any film critic is the quest to find something interesting to write about a movie like Love Happens. Coming straight from the romantic comedy drawing board, there’s virtually no cliché left unexplored by director/co-writer Brandon Camp and his writing partner Mike Thompson. It’s a dull picture, calculated counterprogramming, and watching it is akin to experiencing the giant Hollywood machine at work.
Let’s run down a list of the movie’s features. Does it have a sensitive, burly man as its main character? Check. How about a beautiful modern setting? Check. Awkward yet cute meeting between seemingly mismatched partners? Absolutely there is. Will they fight before discovering they’re drawn to each other? Of course they will. Can’t forget the goofy, comic relief best friends, can we? Nope. The movie has them as well. One could go on and on.
Aaron Eckhart, plays tormented man child Burke Ryan. He’s taken the tragic death of his wife and spun it into a cottage industry, as his self-help book about dealing with loss has become a best seller, and he’s an in-demand presence on the motivational lecture circuit. But he’s still really, really miserable. As the film opens he returns to Seattle, his late wife’s hometown, to conduct a week long workshop for the bereaved. Over the course of the week he will literally run into and fall in love with flower shop owner Eloise (Jennifer Aniston) and be forced to confront his lingering emotions surrounding his wife’s death.
If you’re drawn to the specter of a droopy Eckhart being comforted repeatedly by Aniston, and even, at one point, parroting Benjamin Braddock’s angst-ridden dive to the bottom of a swimming pool (how’s that cliché meter doing?), you’ll want to drop what you’re doing and head straight for the multiplex. If Burke breaking into the home of his father-in-law (Martin Sheen) and snatching a parrot seems like riveting excitement and/or great humor, again, this is the movie for you. More to the point, if the idea of every dramatic and romantic beat being telegraphed an entire reel before they happen seems like a great one, Camp and Thompson have made a movie after your heart.
Yet, the filmmakers haven’t gone completely off the rails here. There’s an undercurrent of sadness to the proceedings that’s occasionally tangibly felt and the cinematography captures the contemporary character of the picturesque city of Seattle (or, in some scenes, Vancouver posing as Seattle), a modern oasis nestled among the awe-inspiring natural beauty of the Puget Sound and Lake Washington. With its rainy days, sleek modernist architecture and iconic Space Needle it’s a photogenic location that, in its visual splendor, rivals any of the more frequently seen movie cities.
Still, Love Happens is not a travelogue but a wearisome romance between two one-dimensional constructions masquerading as humans, with sloppy sentimentality oozing from the awkwardly interspersed workshop scenes. The stars operate in separate depressed spheres, propelled together not by some deep human connection but because the screenwriters decided they should be. The actors share none of the chemistry that’s essential to the genre; their forced bantering and meek personalities lend their co-mingling all the gravitas of a casual encounter.
Eckhart’s a fine actor, gifted at gradually exposing the sleazy cracks in an all-American exterior, but he doesn’t have the natural charisma of a romantic leading man. Aniston has played the role of sweet girl elixir many times before, and her disaffected demeanor suggests a lack of interest in doing so again. In Love Happens all she and Eckhart have in common is their apparent shared desire to hit all their marks, recite their lines, pick up their paychecks and move on down the road.
The Up Side: Seattle, or Vancouver disguised as Seattle, looks great on film.
The Down Side: The movie consists of one ridiculous cliché after another. You could easily predict the entire story from beginning to end.
On the Side: Aaron Eckhart played a man child suffering through a similar midlife crisis in the recent bomb Meet Bill, and he wasn’t much better in that film, which I only saw in the first place because it was filmed in my hometown of St. Louis.