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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Love Happens

By
John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service

Serious but overly slick, "Love Happens" (Universal) is a study of personal loss and recovery within a strictly secular context. Despite a complex performance from its star, Aaron Eckhart, and the admirably mature relationship at the heart of the plot, this romantic drama ultimately proves too timid, and too circumscribed by Hollywood conventions, for its own good.

Eckhart plays widowed self-help writer and guru Dr. Burke Ryan. Since the death of his wife in an auto accident three years ago, Burke has dedicated himself to guiding others through the necessary stages of grief and on toward emotional resolution.

As the film opens, Burke reluctantly returns, for the first time, to his wife's hometown of Seattle, where his driven but caring manager Lane (Dan Fogler) has arranged for the successful author—whose book bears the suspiciously pat title "A-Okay"— to give a weeklong seminar.

Between enthusiastically coaching attendees to be open about their feelings, Burke retires to the privacy of his hotel room to brood and down vodka. Though his bitter father-in-law Silver (Martin Sheen)—whose sudden appearance in a line of autograph seekers comes as an unwelcome surprise to Burke—dismisses him as a hypocrite, as subtly portrayed by Eckhart, Burke comes across instead as a caregiver genuinely dedicated to his work, but unable, as yet, to follow his own advice.

After Burke literally bumps into Eloise (Jennifer Aniston), a local florist working on an arrangement in the hotel hallway, the two share an awkward, nearly silent dinner date. The redemptive bond that eventually develops—despite this less-than-promising start—is refreshingly chaste, though perhaps for negative reasons, since Burke is still repressing himself and Eloise is on the rebound from a characteristically self-destructive affair with a philandering musician.

Whatever their motives for restraint, as Eloise encourages Burke to confront his past, and he wears away at her defenses, the groundwork is laid for a lasting, friendship-based affinity.

But, except through a moving performance by John Carroll Lynch as Walter, a hesitant seminar participant coming to grips with the death of his young son, director and co-writer (with Mike Thompson) Brandon Camp seems content, in his feature debut, to skirt the shores of bereavement, rather than sound its depths.

Thus, at one point, Burke gazes longingly at a video of his wife but fails to break down in a way that might be unsettlingly—but more memorably—realistic. And some late-reel shenanigans that see Burke sneaking into his in-laws' house are both shopworn and incongruous.

Catholic viewers, of course, will be struck by the inadequacy of Burke's New Age-tinted rhetoric as a substitute for faith in the promise of the Resurrection. And that may be another reason for the script's excessive caution. As St. Thomas Aquinas taught: "From nature springs the fear of death; from grace springs audacity."

The film contains a half-dozen uses of profanity, occasional crude and crass language, a few sexual jokes and an obscene gesture. The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 —parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

 Mulderig is on the staff of the Office for Film & Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.


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Philip Neri: Philip Neri was a sign of contradiction, combining popularity with piety against the background of a corrupt Rome and a disinterested clergy, the whole post-Renaissance malaise. 
<p>At an early age, he abandoned the chance to become a businessman, moved to Rome from Florence and devoted his life and individuality to God. After three years of philosophy and theology studies, he gave up any thought of ordination. The next 13 years were spent in a vocation unusual at the time—that of a layperson actively engaged in prayer and the apostolate. </p><p>As the Council of Trent (1545-63) was reforming the Church on a doctrinal level, Philip’s appealing personality was winning him friends from all levels of society, from beggars to cardinals. He rapidly gathered around himself a group of laypersons won over by his audacious spirituality. Initially they met as an informal prayer and discussion group, and also served poor people in Rome. </p><p>At the urging of his confessor, he was ordained a priest and soon became an outstanding confessor, gifted with the knack of piercing the pretenses and illusions of others, though always in a charitable manner and often with a joke. He arranged talks, discussions and prayers for his penitents in a room above the church. He sometimes led “excursions” to other churches, often with music and a picnic on the way. </p><p>Some of his followers became priests and lived together in community. This was the beginning of the Oratory, the religious institute he founded. A feature of their life was a daily afternoon service of four informal talks, with vernacular hymns and prayers. Giovanni Palestrina was one of Philip’s followers, and composed music for the services. </p><p>The Oratory was finally approved after suffering through a period of accusations of being an assembly of heretics, where laypersons preached and sang vernacular hymns! (Cardinal Newman founded the first English-speaking house of the Oratory three centuries later.) </p><p>Philip’s advice was sought by many of the prominent figures of his day. He is one of the influential figures of the Counter-Reformation, mainly for converting to personal holiness many of the influential people within the Church itself. His characteristic virtues were humility and gaiety.</p> American Catholic Blog When we suffer, we don’t just come to understand the pain of Christ’s cross more, we come to understand the depth of God’s love for us: that he would endure such pain for us—in our place. We have a God who endured death so we would never have to do so.

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