So, you remember that “recession” thing, right? The one where everyone stopped making so much money and had to cut back on fun stuff? Well, if you’re disappointed I’m not reviewing a theatrical film and looking to lay blame, lay it on the recession. I actually have to PAY for my tickets, remember? Anyway, so today’s film is Love Happens, which was released last year but is not a remake of the film of the same name from ten years ago that you’ve probably never heard of but will come across if you IMDB the title.
THIS Love Happens stars Aaron Eckhart and Jennifer Aniston goes something like this: A new relationship with an eccentric florist forces a psychologist who leads seminars in grieving to finally come to terms with his own loss.
Sounds depressing, right? And maybe also a little boring and formulaic? Yeah, it did to me too when I read the blurb, but these two actors have a decent track record for picking movies so I gave it a shot and liked it.
Click here to see why I would call it interesting, hopeful, and only semi-formulaic:
First of all, I would like to say ARGH! So here I go: ARGH! I thought for this review it would be great, because Love Happens was on DVD and I could make my own screencaps rather than having to rely on whatever the studio felt like releasing as a publicity still. So I gathered a nice big folder full of images… which have turned black since Wednesday night! And I turned off the overlays when I took them and everything! They WERE images. I saw them. They just stopped deciding to cooperate and now I am aggravated!
Anyway… the movie.
Even though I would describe Love Happens as a romantic comedy/drama rather than a straight up romantic comedy, the movie starts off with the typical rom-com jaunty music montage of the main character going through his usual routine. So far so samey… as long as you compare it to older rom-coms (pre 2000s). Most of what we get in theaters now belongs to that special new genre of romantic comedies that I like to call Turbo Rom-Coms, which are in such a hurry to get finished that they completely gut the plot of anything not directly related to the two main characters falling in love.
Eventually these new TRCs (no time to say the full name!) will be shorter than their trailers
But the formulaic beginning didn’t worry me nearly as much as the establishing shots of buildings and such that revealed to movie’s setting. “Oh nooooo” I groaned. “Not New York AGAIN! Why does every second movie in the world have to be set there?!”
I know they give great tax breaks, but come on, the place smells like pee.
Everyone I know (and everyone I don’t) seems to love New York so much that they’ll fall all over themselves to buy t-shirts proclaiming it. I don’t know why everyone else is so eager to be crammed in like sheep and overcharged for everything, but I’ve been there and if I was going to buy a t-shirt it would look more like this:
I reluctantly stomach the everpresence of New York City
Luckily I’m either too pessimistic or I have no talent for telling buildings apart (seen one tall concrete lump, seen ’em all), because it turns out that Love Happens actually takes place in Seattle, not New York City. “Fooooooled you!” The movie squeals delightedly, as it waves the Space Needle in my face. “Shut up,” I tell it, then mark it down a star for cheekiness.
The best thing about Seattle is that with its highly changeable weather, mood rain never seems contrived.
Shots of the iconic and identifiable Space Needle began showing up almost immediately after I started complaining. Perhaps the movie gods heard me, went back in time, and changed the screenwriters’ minds. So Mike Thompson and Brandon Camp, if you’ve developed blinding headaches as your memories start to rewrite themselves… sorry.
The movie gods manipulating tiny writer brains
So Love Happens mixes it up a little bit in the setting department. I approve. It mixes things up again (though in a rather odd way) in the naming department. Usually movie characters either have two first names (i.e. Jack Ryan, Sarah Connor) or two last names (i.e. Seely Booth, Fletcher Reede) instead of a first name and a last name like normal people. Mr. Main Character in Love Happens has a first name and a last name, but they’re backwards.
Hi, I’m Burke Ryan and I’ll be your smarmy seminar leader for this evening!
As you can see from the photo, Burke Ryan (Aaron Eckhart) is a smarmy leader of smarmy seminars on how to deal with grief. His trademark is that “ok” finger thing there. Though he seems like kind of a smarmy bastard on stage, it’s just his game face. In private, he’s actually sad and broken because his wife died three years ago. He drinks, he won’t use elevators, and he never smiles. But on stage he actually does help people. He does it during the movie so we the audience can see that he a) actually has a talent (not like napkin ring girl from Leap Year) and b) is a decent guy.
There there. Tell me all your problems. I have a PhD. It says so on the cover of my book.
So he’s sort of in “do what I say, not what I do” mode as he helps everyone else but doesn’t follow his own advice. To do so he needs a nudge, and the nudge comes in the form of a lady (doesn’t it always?) who writes big words behind the pictures in hotel hallways and plays with flowers for a living.
Also: cute as a button. I hear that helps.
Her name is Eloise (I know, right? Odd name for a movie character who isn’t 85 years old) and she’s played by Jennifer Aniston. Eloise is not a transplanted version of Rachel like some of Jennifer Aniston’s other characters (think Picture Perfect, Object of My Affection), so don’t think you can get your Friends fix here. She’s quirky alright, but not in the spaz fit way. She and Burke hit it off…
Awwww… aren’t they cute?
…but not TOO fast, because the movie is more about fixing Burke than it is about the two of them falling in love (despite what the title might have you believe). It’s a rare romance movie that uses the death of a loved one as anything other than an excuse for why the two main characters can’t jump each other until the halfway point. Love Happens actually takes the time to deal with it properly. But don’t think that makes the movie a bummer to watch. Au contraire. Bummage is Burke’s current state. What he needs now is fun!
Eloise helps him have buckets of it… hur hur, get it? Buckets? Because they’re in a bucket?
So there’s lots of peppy music and progress and trips to interesting places in Seattle – hookah clubs, rock concerts, walls with wads of chewed up gum stuck to it (ew) and of course:
The Space Needle, which is hard to get to if you won’t use the elevator like Burke.
Eventually this brings him around to face the really big hurdles in his way, namely the fact that he hasn’t even spoken to his father in law in three years and that he was supposed to let his wife’s parrot go free.
Although I’m not sure it’s a great idea to release tropical birds in the Pacific Northwest… isn’t it a little too cold??
And eventually, since this is a happy ending movie, Burke has his climactic moment of ultimate fixedness. I won’t tell you how it goes, but I will tell you that it’s probably the most formulaic part of the movie. It not only makes use of the time-honored “admission of the truth in front of a large crowd” but also of the hilariously cliched “slow clap.”
If anyone ever gave me a slow-clap standing O, I’d assume they were making fun of me.
But I can forgive this lapse into formula, since Love Happens never falls into the trap of using outside elements to solve the problems it set out for itself, and within the framework of the formula it’s actually quite interesting and different. Different setting, different character quirks, different complications. But the best part is the pacing. Love Happens is not a TRC. The director (Brandon Camp) and screenwriter understood that when the focus of your movie is relationships, it’s a good idea to actually give the viewers time to get to know the characters. Both Burke and Eloise have best friends to talk to…
You might recognize Eloise’s: Judy Greer is everyone’s rom-com BFF (think 27 Dresses, 13 Going on 30).
… who actually don’t disappear after the first act of the film. Neither are they kept in reserve to associate with their main character and only their main character until the end when they meet their opposite number and fall in love. They actually meet fairly early on so the four of them can all have fun together like normal people and their friends.
unlike “normal” people and their friends, they actually do something besides drink once in a while
There are also a few other secondary characters that provide the movie with subplots (another element sacrificed in TRCs), such as Eloise’s mother, her cheating ex-boyfriend, and Burke’s father-in-law (Martin Sheen)…
You know it has to be a decent secondary role if they got President Bartlet
… so there’s more going on in the movie than just Burke and Eloise falling in love. In fact, it’s so well put together that I have only one other minor complaint, and that’s the level of product placement and sponsorship that’s going on in the background. Grey Goose, Qwest, Teleflora, Ford, and Home Depot have all ponied up to have their logos appear in the film. It sounds like a lot, but my complaint is only minor because I think if your plot requires you to have a bucket truck, a bottle of vodka, or a car in the film anyway, why not use one from a company people are already familiar with AND collect a bit of film-finance cash in the process?
The pimping of the rock band “Rogue Wave” I can’t figure out though… maybe the director just likes them.
So should you rent Love Happens? Yes. Absolutely. It’ll only cost you a few bucks and it’s definitely worth that. Especially vehement recommendations go out to all you romantic comedy lovers out there, so you can see that there IS an alternative to tripe like The Back-Up Plan, and hopefully stop thinking that these movies are good.