With the broad theme that love means being true to yourself first and foremost, and loaded with Hollywood cliches, Universal’s Love Happens lives up to its romantic yet realistic title and delivers the perfect movie for fall’s sense of renewal.
Don’t expect the typically twisted boy-meets-girl affair. Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight) stars as a widower who turns his wife’s death into a bestselling book and seminar series about grief recovery that earns him a multimedia deal, pending throughout the movie, and the unwelcome prospect of having to practice what he preaches. When the book tour takes him to camera-ready Seattle (actually, Vancouver) where his wife died and her in-laws live, he comes to a crucial juncture.
Enter Jennifer Aniston, who has never been better as a codependent, emergently independent, florist who longs to be noticed, valued, and loved for being competent, romantic, and intelligent. Though she has a bad habit of defacing private property, which is supposed to be cute, the wholesome, knit capped Aniston is swept off her feet by the square-jawed Eckhart and Love Happens, which is mostly about the man, for a change, unfolds beautifully. The florist is an organizer who gets things done; she shows the life coach how to put the play in action. Seeing himself, literally, at his best will either make him want to push her away or claim her as his own.
Keeping it together is an actor who nearly steals the show. His name is John Carroll Lynch (Gran Torino) and he did the same thing in another recovery-themed picture released in autumn, Things We Lost in the Fire. As a father who lost his son, he gives one of the best performances in a picture this year. His sincerity is the key to what makes Love Happens: he dramatizes the point that one’s professed values, in order to be achieved, must be based on reality. It’s not easy to watch people struggle with their loss, but whether his character, Walter, gets back to work and to living his life becomes a pivotal part of the puzzle.
Martin Sheen is overdone as the gruff father-in-law with unresolved issues, a few touches are too pat, and the entire plot is fairly predictable, but one of my favorite things about this picture is its positive portrayals of people making money, pursuing profits, and enjoying living in a society based on capitalism. Both leading characters are employed by themselves, work for themselves, and they love their work. Both are skilled, knowledgeable, and successful. The boilerplate best friends are friends through work and even a kooky performance artist pays her own way. Best of all, the profit motive is never disparaged.
Contrary to the daily government-sponsored slogans being disseminated by the White House, the same old intellectuals, and their mouthpieces in the press (including and especially NBC Universal’s outlets) the upshot of this movie is that being honorable is the way to become profitable. Love Happens is co-written and directed by Brandon Camp, who is, incidentally, the son of Benji creator Joe Camp, and the film is co-written by Seattle native Mike Thompson.