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Love Happens, but it didn’t quite for me….

September 20, 2009

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Perhaps a better title for this film would have been Death Happens. Either the marketing team got it wrong, or an advertised romantic film, Love Happens, accidentally got a little too hung up on the dramatic side stories. I am really unclear as to which it is. But then again, with director Brandon Camp at the helm, I should have known death and love would be blended together, as his best known work was “Dragon Fly” starring Kevin Costner which also focused on a male widow hung up on the grieving process of his wife.

Not that there is anything wrong with that part of the story. In fact, the most interesting character is actually Walter, played wonderfully by John Carroll Lynch (who oddly played a guy named Walter 10 years ago in Tuesdays with Morrie). Walter has lost his son and struggles to work through his pain even though he is at the angry side of grieving.

Aaron Eckhart stars as Burke, a self-help guru that travels the country doing seminars for those who grieve their loved ones. Having lost his wife three years prior, Burke sympathizes with Walter and the others while giving helpful advice. But when he has to travel to Seattle, where his wife is buried, things begin to unravel. I like how the self-help gurus keep popping up in films, as the new tent sermon ministers of our generation. Sure, Burke is no Elmer Gantry, but the concept is the same. People put their faith in someone to tell them how to live without ever questioning if the message is something that the proselytizer really lives.  We’ve seen this recently in “Yes Man” and further back in “Magnolia.” In this, Burke is a good guy and not in it for the money, but is using the path as a form of escape from his own pain. Help others to avoid helping yourself.

In comes Eloise (Jennifer Aniston) who could be his next step forward in life, but his past is holding him back. What does not become clear is whether it is the interaction with his dead wife’s parents, the new love, or Walter who shakes up what he has been holding back. But perhaps it is meant to be all of these things happening at one time that helps wake Burke up to the truth he has been hiding.

But all of that is your storybook romantic drama with the usual ups and downs – they become close, then he yells at her randomly while releasing a parrot into the wilderness. You know, the usual.

It is Walter, however, that manages to steal the spotlight with Lynch’s heartbreaking performance and eventual break through. What he is able to do throughout the film is validate Burke’s work but also show the grief and emotions that Burke can not work his way through on screen. Perhaps it is because Walter is so broken and so honest that our hearts drift in his direction rather than caring for Burke or Eloise. I don’t care if they end up together in the end, but I wonder what is next for Walter. The only thing I wish had not happened was the forced ad placement of Home Depot. Could Walter have not had a breakthrough at a local mom and pop hardware store?

Judy Greer (Visioneers) and Dan Fogler (Fan Boys, Taking Woodstock) as the two friends are also outstanding but their storyline gets a little lost in the murkiness. I suppose if this had been a romantic comedy the formula would have been for the two of them to end up together, but instead we only see them interact once. Both do play the proper romance film “friend role,” as co-workers of the two main stars, they help push them in the direction of each other and provide the proper insight into their love life. Greer shows off a little more of her comic chops in this while Fogler actually plays on his more serious side.

Martin Sheen and Sasha Alexander also have cameos in the film. Love Happens is currently playing at Malco.

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