“Love Happens” is anything but the light romantic comedy it’s being marketed as; it’s more interesting than that - an exploration of grief and loss and how even the most sensible of us have trouble coming to terms with them.
This cinematic surprise stars Aaron Eckhart as Burke, a self-help guru who specializes in helping people get over the deaths of loved ones. “A-Okay!” is the title of his best-selling book, and it’s how a packed auditorium responds when he appears and asks, “How are you?”
It’s not clear that Burke is A-OK himself. He wrote the book as a way of coping with his wife’s death in a car accident, but we soon see why he didn’t want to promote it with a weeklong workshop in Seattle. His wife’s family lives in the Northwest city, and his former father-in-law (Martin Sheen) shows up to disturb his equilibrium by accusing him of being a fraud.
Burke’s on the verge of signing an Oprah-level multiplatform deal, but his mind is soon elsewhere when he spots a florist, Eloise (Jennifer Aniston), at his hotel. This creative, independent woman is the first he has tried to date since his wife’s death three years earlier. She soon realizes he hasn’t gotten over his loss - though his entire career seems predicated on just that.
He’s actually a very good motivational speaker. “If you don’t pay the piper, he will come calling,” he says to those who bottle up their grief. It’s advice he should take, as he does the injunction to smile - because then eventually you’ll mean it.
If this is a romantic comedy - and there are many cleverly fun moments - it’s certainly a dark one. The focus is not on the relationship between Burke and Eloise, but rather Burke and his inner demons. That comes into sharp relief, not through his interactions with the beautiful florist, but with a down-on-his-luck contractor who has lost his young son. Walter is a challenge, and the actor John Carroll Lynch makes his grief heartbreakingly real. Also a standout supporting player is Dan Fogler as Burke’s agent, who cares as much about his friend’s emotional health as his financial well-being.
You couldn’t get two much better-looking leads than Mr. Eckhart and Miss Aniston, and the frequent close-ups certainly make them even more likable. It’s their real chemistry, though, and the deep feeling they’ve put into this strongly written, slightly unconventional film that makes it so moving.
TITLE: “Love Happens”
RATING: PG-13 (some language, including sexual references)
CREDITS: Directed by Brandon Camp. Written by Mr. Camp and Mike Thompson.
RUNNING TIME: 109 minutes
WEB SITE: lovehappensmovie.com
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS