I often dread going to see romantic comedies such as Love Happens. 1,000 times burned, 1,001 times shy. Romcoms are usually known for only their lack of originality, convoluted nature, and eagerness to play on overused themes.
As it happens, Love Happens isn’t a bad film. In fact its a fair bit better than I expected. However, even with two likable stars playing even more likable characters, not to mention a talented supporting cast, the film gets into trouble when it ignores the story it’s trying to tell, one worth watching, and instead focuses on giving us pat scenes which could have been taken from any other movie of this genre.
Aaron Eckhart stars as a widower turned self-help guru on the verge of national syndication. Along with his loyal assistant (Dan Fogler), Burke returns to Seattle for a seminar and hoping to close a lucrative deal.
Unexpectedly Burke encounters a flower shop owner (Jennifer Aniston) with a passion for big words. His relationship with Eloise forces Burke to take a hard look at his own life, the loss of his wife, and the pain he still carries around inside him.
There’s much about the film that works. First, Eckhart and Aniston are great on screen together. Not only can we see these two together, we want them to get there. Of course the two meet cuter than a basket of puppies, but that’s to be expected.
I also liked the choice to make Burke honest and not only in the self-help game for the money. He genuinely wants, even needs, to help others deal with the loss of loved ones. One of the film’s best relationships is between Burke and a father (John Carroll Lynch) struggling over the death of his son.
The film struggles, however, with the relationship between Burke and his father-in-law (Martin Sheen) which produces one of the most ludicrous scenes of the movie that involves breaking-and-entering, a parrot, and hiding under a table. Don’t ask.
Even more troubling however is the film’s need to provide us with a final act confession and “big reveal” about Burke and his struggle to get over the death of his wife. Not only is the revelation not shocking (it’s hinted at several times) its inclusion does nothing to improve the story in any way except add a pandering “Awwwwwww” moment which the film not only doesn’t need, but made me feel dirty for even watching it. Not only does this twist completely take the film off the rails, but it also creates a myriad of problems and logic holes which aren’t even mentioned, let alone discussed.
Love Happens is 65% good film, 20% romcom cliche, and 15% off-the-rails disaster. That still puts it well-ahead of the curve giving us a good romantic comedy. It just happens the movie could have been much more.