Love Happens
Hi there, want to co-star in a terribly predictable film with me tonight?

Theatrical Release Date: 09/18/2009
Director: Brandon Camp
Cast: Aaron Eckhart, Jennifer Aniston, Dan Fogler, John Carroll Lynch, Martin Sheen, Judy Greer, Frances Conroy, Sasha Alexander

“Love Happens” is writer/director Brandon Camp’s first film. And yes, I could tell.

The film deals with the widowed author of a self-help book (Aaron Eckhart) who, while presenting a seminar in the very same city his wife dies, meets a flower shop owner (Jennifer Aniston), who always picks the wrong guys, and the pair turn their initial combativeness into a love that will last the test of time – unless one of them dies of course … which will spark the grief-stricken survivor to star in “Love Happens 2: Life Insurance”.

Too jaded?

Look, I’m actually all for films that are about loss, pain and redemption. If you take a look at any of Susanne Bier’s films (my favorite director), you’ll see exactly how these films should be done. The problem is that Camp and crew resort to all sorts of tricks and cheats to suck the audience in, only to end up finishing the film like it was written by a Rom-Com for Dummies owning monkey with a typewriter.

Trick#1: Load the soundtrack with sappy songs that will force the audience to feel what they should be feeling from a simple, tasteful score, good writing, acting and directing. At one point, although I’m sure it was just my brain freezing for a second, I could have sworn I predicted the song that was going to play because it would be just the right one at that time to tug at the old heartstrings. That’s just not right.

Trick#2: Set a mopey film in Seattle. Look, we all get it. Rain Happens in Seattle. Yes, that makes for a gloomier atmosphere and doubles as a metaphor. And then when it stops raining, that’s how we know things are happy! Hooray!

Trick#3: Make sure to throw in an even sadder story of grief into the mix, so that the main characters’ issues aren’t quite as much of a downer as his. John Carroll Lynch gives the performance of the film, as a man who’s lost his son. His moments are genuine and heart-breaking, bringing a few tears to my eyes (which I quickly sucked back in so as not to appear weak … oh, who’s kidding I let a drop or two fall – but just a few!).

Trick#4: Cast a highly respected actor (Martin Sheen) as the father of the dead wife. This will allow for a quick and easy way to gain acting street cred amongst the audience and present the film with some terribly, terribly, terribly predictable set-ups that will make sure one doesn’t need to think too hard about where the film is headed.

Now, Eckhart plays his role fine, given the predictable constraints of the cinematic cell into which he was placed. He does the whole angry, brooding thing well. He seemed to borrow a lot from his role in “Thank You for Smoking” which I suppose is neither here nor there, since it works for the role and really the only way to avoid this comparison is not to cast Eckhart.

The elephant in the room, from an acting perspective, is Jennifer Aniston. I’m not a fan of “Friends” and have only liked her in films that were bent towards the down and depressing slant (“The Good Girl”, “Friends with Money“). As this film was about a man who’d lost his wife and is trying to find himself again, I was hopeful … and half-satisfied. I wasn’t overcome with a sense of her character being just the right person for Eckhart, because her best trait was pushing him to move forward. Other than that, it was almost all physical chemistry rather than emotional and let’s just say I wouldn’t place a lot of money on this relationship going the distance.

I’m probably being a little too harsh and I’m sure that there are a lot of people who might find this film to be much more significant to them. Just keep in mind that this is a romantic drama, no matter what the trailer says. There was a long stretch where a few “jokes” were thrown on-screen and no one in the theater so much as coughed. Even the great Judy Greer couldn’t make her character all that appealing or humorous as her eccentricities felt very, very forced.

Perhaps the most shocking element in relation to “Love Happens” is that I’m going to give it a 2 out of 5. There’s a part of me that wants to knock it down another peg but Lynch gives a fantastic performance (even with a hokey resolution thanks to the script) and I’ll admit that I left the theater with a strong sense of melancholy as I reflected on some items in my own life. At least the film was able to push my psyche into finding some true emotion, there are plenty of others that just leave me cold or angry. Here, it was more of a “meh”.

Though if “(500) Days of Summer” is still playing near you, go see that. Even if you’ve already watched it, you’ll have a far, far better time there than anywhere near “Love Happens” – there’s a joke to made about that title … I just don’t know what ;) .