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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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Dominic of Silos: It’s not the founder of the Dominicans we honor today, but there’s a poignant story that connects both Dominics. 
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