Film review: Love Happens

Newsroom 02/11/2009 | 15:24

Consider the dramatis personae. Our hero is Burke Ryan (Aaron Eckhart), a tragic but handsome widower still mourning his wife's death in a car crash three years earlier. Despite being utterly devastated, he has managed to parlay his grief into a lucrative career as a self-help guru and author. Burke spends his time touring the US, delivering inspirational seminars to the grateful grief-stricken. But the huge irony is that he can't apply his advice (all extraordinarily perceptive and original revelations like the importance of moving on and taking the first step) to himself.What can help him escape the past and embrace life once again? Could it be the love of a good woman, perhaps? Step forward Eloise (Jennifer Aniston). We know she's got soul, because she's a florist, wears sensible woolly hats and writes bizarre words like quidnunc on hotel walls under pictures. Oh, the kookiness! In between leading the sorrowful masses back into the light, Burke is in negotiations with some cold-hearted corporate types over taking his brand global, getting his chiselled jawline on every network in the country and flogging his followers a range of gloriously tasteless products like diet pills (because if there's one thing the newly bereaved just don't need it's to pile on those pesky pounds through comfort eating). Momentarily forgetting both his ambition to be the nation's chief grief guru and his deep-seated anguish, Burke manages to rapidly fall for and then pursue Eloise, who slowly helps the melancholy self-help mogul confront his loss and love again. Although he's the lesser star of the two, Eckhart is the main focus of the film, with the romance almost a secondary thought. There's more tension in Burke's fraught relationship with his father-in-law (a brief appearance from Martin Sheen, whose presence invests the film with some gravitas it doesn't deserve, and invites the question what on earth was he thinking of when he signed up). Another game-raising, pathos-inducing turn comes from John Caroll Lynch as a small-town blue-collar worker mourning the loss of his son. The comic part of the proceedings, what there is of it, comes mainly from Burke's smarmy manager (Dan Fogler), and Eloise's quirky assistant (Judy Greer).Post-Pitt, Jennifer Aniston, never exactly associated with gritty realism, seems to have become the go-to actress when you need a valiant 40-something singleton who hasn't given up on love, and she could have made this movie in her sleep. Eckhart combines the slick professional with the tortured widower, and while the leads don't have huge chemistry they make a likeable enough couple. The main problem is that the film can't seem to decide whether Burke's self-help empire is cynical hokum or uplifting miracle cure. How can we root for someone who wants to sell weight-loss products with his face on to the grief-stricken?Leaving that incongruity aside, Love Happens is a glossy, effectively made movie, and more sensitive viewers may feel a tear welling despite themselves. It has its charms, though in limited servings. But expect them to come coated in syrup.
Debbie Stowe

Director: Brandon Camp

Starring: Aaron Eckhart, Jennifer Aniston, Dan Fogler, John Carroll Lynch, Martin Sheen, Judy Greer

On at: : Baneasa Drive in Cinema, Cityplex, Hollywood Multiplex, Movieplex Cinema, Starplex, The Light

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