Length: 109 minutes
Release Date: September 18, 2009
Directed by: Brandon Camp
Stars: 3 out of 5
“Love Happens” is an American dramatic romance that stars Aaron Eckhart and Jennifer Aniston. This film is Brandon Camp’s directorial debut, and he also wrote the script, along with Mike Thompson.
Eckhart plays Burke Ryan, a successful psychotherapist who has written a self-help book on grief counseling, with cute titles such as “A-Okay!” His wife has recently died in a car accident and he gives seminars on dealing with the death of a loved one. Aniston plays Eloise, a florist who works in a flower shop at a hotel in Seattle, Washington. She is unlucky in love and never makes the right choices in the romance department.
Burke and Eloise meet when Burke holds a seminar in the hotel where Eloise works. Eloise shows Burke that he is not taking his own advice on dealing with his wife’s death. He has also told everyone that his wife was driving the car when she died. However, he eventually reveals to his seminar audience that he blames himself for his wife’s death because he was actually driving the car when the accident occurred.
Eloise and Burke’s father-in-law (Martin Sheen) begin to help Burke work through his grieving process. After a few days, Burke tells Eloise that she only knows the part of him that is unavailable. He now wants her to know the part of him that is available.
“Love Happens” is a rare romance for Hollywood, since it deals with more than just love at first sight. Eckhart and Aniston play their roles as a mismatched couple who are more interested in exchanging insults than getting to know each other. Their first meeting does not go well, and their second ends in an argument.
Burke and Eloise eventually go on a date, but their interactions are rarely lighthearted. There are some breezy moments, but the majority of the conversation between these two characters deals with heavier material than simple flirtation. The film follows many of the conventions of a dramatic romance, but most of the elements of a romantic comedy are greatly downplayed.
The scenic locations in Seattle form a photogenic backdrop to the quirky romance that develops between the two main characters. The film also contains many prominent product placements, such as Burke’s vodka bottles.
The storyline has a deep theme of grief that runs throughout this film. Brandon takes the sadness and anger of the characters seriously, especially Burke. He appears to be doing well in public, but he is falling apart in private. Burke is lonely after his wife dies and begins to drink heavily.
Burke’s manager is Lane Marshall (Dan Fogler), who plays a sympathetic, supporting role by keeping Burke from becoming completely consumed by his despair. He persuades Burke to return to give a seminar in Seattle, a city he has avoided since his wife died there. Burke is on the brink of stardom as a therapist and the purpose of the seminar is to close a multimedia deal. The three-day seminar caters to garden-variety neurotics looking for a quick fix and includes a variety of popular exercises in psychotherapy.
The film also contains lengthy scenes where Burke works through his grief without Eloise. These scenes are touching, but the audience will want to see more of Aniston, who brings a good deal of charm to the film. Hers is really a supporting role, although she is billed as a star. Her character, Eloise, has many quirks. In this way the film takes advantage of Aniston’s extensive experience in romantic comedies. Eloise’s quirks include a habit of smoking a hookah at poetry recitals and writing vocabulary words on bathroom walls. She also collects cards that contain her favorite greetings.
Eckart is most effective when he is portraying his character’s problems, rather than the positive side of a professional motivational speaker. Burke’s secret is telegraphed throughout the film and will not surprise the audience when he confesses it at his seminar during the film’s climax. The surprises in the film deal more with the characters’ responses to revelations, rather than the narrative itself.
“Love Happens” is a well-crafted drama, although its tone is decidedly downbeat. It preaches strongly against solving life’s problems with shortcuts.