‘Love Happens’ movie review: Jennifer Aniston, Aaron Eckhart in maudlin romance

Love never quite happens in Brandon Camp’s Love Happens, a well-intentioned but seriously mishandled film. It’s been marketed as a romantic comedy, but there’s precious little romance and no comedy; the film is instead a maudlin drama on the nature of death and grieving that’s been run through the Hollywood ringer.

Aaron Eckhart stars as Burke Ryan, a widower and author whose book on grieving has turned him into a Tony Robbins-like self guru. The film is in trouble right off the bat, as it doesn’t know whether to treat this character with derision or sympathy; Burke seems sincere enough, but he’s also exploited a market of people dealing with loss for money. 

Well, we can treat the character with derision, in any case: he’s completely disingenuous, and an incredibly poor lead. In most movies, Burke Ryan would be the villain, a snake oil salesman out to scam the recently bereaved; here we’re expected to sympathize with and root for him.

Camp has come back to Seattle to give a four-day seminar (and, apparently, meet with executives about a TV show and line of merchandise). His manager Lane (Dan Fogler) steers him towards the money, but also seems to have Burke’s best interests at heart. 

You see, he has a terrible secret: despite helping people with their losses, he has yet to get over the death of his wife. Oh, the irony. His wife died in a car accident in Seattle three years ago, and her father (Martin Sheen) comes to yell at Burke at the seminar for reasons yet to be fully explained.

Into Burke’s life comes flower girl Eloise Chandler (Jennifer Aniston). Just like in Chaplin’s City Lights, although Eloise isn’t blind. She does pretend to be deaf to avoid having to talk to Burke, and would have to be deaf and blind to fall for him (a Helen Keller reference is even thrown out there to confirm it). Eloise is an eccentric type who writes obscure words behind hotel room pictures (?) and has just broken up with her musician boyfriend.

And, she’s barely in the movie. No, this is the Burke Ryan show all the way, as we watch a step-by-step of how not to help others – or yourself – in the grieving process. Did your son just die? Well, come walk on a bed of hot coals while we all cheer you on. Burke even stands on the hot coals to goad the poor man to walk on over. Can’t stand to go into a construction store after your son was killed in a construction accident? Sounds like a field trip to Home Depot is in order. Cue montage music.

Love Happens plays out almost like a horror film, with the audience yelling at the characters not to make these wrong, clearly stupid decisions, even though we know the screenplay requires them to do so. The film has its heart in the right place, but everything feels so completely wrong.

Love Happens is Camp’s directorial debut. His father, Joe Camp, made the Benji movies, and this one is handled with about the same amount of sentimentality.

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Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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