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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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Anthony Claret: The "spiritual father of Cuba" was a missionary, religious founder, social reformer, queen’s chaplain, writer and publisher, archbishop and refugee. He was a Spaniard whose work took him to the Canary Islands, Cuba, Madrid, Paris and to the First Vatican Council. 
<p>In his spare time as weaver and designer in the textile mills of Barcelona, he learned Latin and printing: The future priest and publisher was preparing. Ordained at 28, he was prevented by ill health from entering religious life as a Carthusian or as a Jesuit, but went on to become one of Spain’s most popular preachers. </p><p>He spent 10 years giving popular missions and retreats, always placing great emphasis on the Eucharist and devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Her rosary, it was said, was never out of his hand. At 42, beginning with five young priests, he founded a religious institute of missionaries, known today as the Claretians. </p><p>He was appointed to head the much-neglected archdiocese of Santiago in Cuba. He began its reform by almost ceaseless preaching and hearing of confessions, and suffered bitter opposition mainly for opposing concubinage and giving instruction to black slaves. A hired assassin (whose release from prison Anthony had obtained) slashed open his face and wrist. Anthony succeeded in getting the would-be assassin’s death sentence commuted to a prison term. His solution for the misery of Cubans was family-owned farms producing a variety of foods for the family’s own needs and for the market. This invited the enmity of the vested interests who wanted everyone to work on a single cash crop—sugar. Besides all his religious writings are two books he wrote in Cuba: <i>Reflections on Agriculture</i> and <i>Country Delights</i>. </p><p>He was recalled to Spain for a job he did not relish—being chaplain for the queen. He went on three conditions: He would reside away from the palace, he would come only to hear the queen’s confession and instruct the children and he would be exempt from court functions. In the revolution of 1868, he fled with the queen’s party to Paris, where he preached to the Spanish colony. </p><p>All his life Anthony was interested in the Catholic press. He founded the Religious Publishing House, a major Catholic publishing venture in Spain, and wrote or published 200 books and pamphlets. </p><p>At Vatican I, where he was a staunch defender of the doctrine of infallibility, he won the admiration of his fellow bishops. Cardinal Gibbons of Baltimore remarked of him, "There goes a true saint." At the age of 63, he died in exile near the border of Spain.</p> American Catholic Blog The greatest tragedy of our world is that men do not know, really know, that God loves them. Some believe it in a shadowy sort of way. If they were to really think about it they would soon realize that their belief in God’s love for them is very remote and abstract. Because of this lack of realization of God’s love for them, men do not know how to love God back. —Catherine de Hueck Doherty

 
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