Pros: Eckhart, Aniston, Dan Fogler, John Carroll Lynch, Sheen; fairly enjoyable, touching story; bonus features
Cons: a bit heavy; chemistry between leads takes a while to develop...
For the record, this review of 2008’s Love Happens is surprisingly my first review of a Jennifer Aniston movie, at least that I recall. It’s not that I avoid her movies because I don’t and really I do like her as an actress and person. The thing is that her movies are usually pretty lightweight, as are her characters, and reviewing them just doesn’t excite me. Finally one of her movies has some backbone and depth, it seems to me. Love Happens is hardly Oscar material and still follows most of the romantic comedy formula, but it’s also darker, more mature, fairly unpredictable, introspective and has one kiss at the end. I was especially intrigued with its psychological drama and its courage to offer main characters that are screwed up and not lovable in the beginning. So if you’re looking for a rom-com with lots of cardboard characters, sex, brainless laughs and pumped-up thrills, don’t bother with this indie.
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. That’s what we first hear in a voice-over as somebody squeezes lemons to make fresh lemonade. It’s the voice of popular self-help guru Burke Ryan whose book about dealing with the loss of a loved one has brought him to a Seattle hotel (actually Vancouver) to give a workshop. After the accidental death of his wife three years earlier, he wrote about his grieving process and has connected with the public, but as we’ll discover later there’s something about the accident that he’s kept to himself and is tearing him up inside. Enter Jennifer Aniston’s slightly quirky character. She plays a florist who beautifies the hotel and literally bumps into Aaron Eckhart’s guru character. It’s an awkward moment and then she hurries off to find out that yet another of her loser boyfriends has been cheating on her.
These characters are a bit wounded or scarred and it shows. Not funny, you say? Well, I didn’t laugh out loud or become hysterical, but I did chuckle and smile, as well as bawl towards the end. It’s an offbeat comedy, even a black comedy at times. Their characters come with issues and assumptions like many of us do who keep having relationship problems and it can be amusing as well as sad. I appreciate how they stumble into a friendship out of curiosity and begin to see who the other really is once they give them a chance.
First it’s a shallow dinner in a restaurant, then they start to let their guard down and have fun, followed by fear and misunderstanding, then an emotional breakdown and recovery. Love, we understand, means caring for another as a real person.
There are two stories at play in Love Happens, that of the sensitive guru and his workshop clients as well as the screwed-up guru and the florist. I’m not much into self-help books or, god forbid, workshops, but it’s to the filmmakers’ credit that there’s not a biting whiff of religion and the focus is on accepting loss and working through feelings of guilt, anger, fear and loneliness. Ryan doesn’t read from his book, either, but we get a good sense of what his advice is through his responses to sharings and the outings he takes them on. I think there was a fine line between showing how effective self-help workshops could be and how, well, insincere they could be at the same time. Ryan’s agent was busy trying to market him in DVDs and TV, even a weight-loss product, but Ryan wasn’t as interested, which makes him more likable. His agent was a sweetie, by the way.
There’s a side story with the guru’s father-in-law played by an engaging Martin Sheen and his late wife’s parrot who both are necessary for Ryan’s emotional healing and were misunderstood or neglected by Ryan, so capably played by Eckhart. Also one of his workshop people is particularly focused on because he’s so resistant to being helped and is quite touching. Less important is the florist’s kooky best friend and assistant.
I enjoyed Love Happens, rated PG-13 for language and perhaps subject matter, and know that it’s helped people going through a grieving process, but if you’re not one of them it may not appeal to you. People looking for entertainment will find it heavy and even tasteless, especially if they take it too seriously. It is a movie, please remember, that dramatizes what in real life would be less quirky and emotive. Don’t get wound up about the supposed animal cruelty or the weird vandalism acts. Chill. It may not be your usual romantic comedy, but I think that’s a strength. With a commentary by director Brandon Camp, his co-writer and the executive producer, plus deleted scenes and a featurette on the digital effects in the bonus features, it’s not a bad flick if you’re in the right mood.