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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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Mary Magdalene de' Pazzi: Mystical ecstasy is the elevation of the spirit to God in such a way that the person is aware of this union with God while both internal and external senses are detached from the sensible world. Mary Magdalene de' Pazzi was so generously given this special gift of God that she is called the "ecstatic saint." 
<p>She was born into a noble family in Florence in 1566. The normal course would have been for Catherine de' Pazzi to have married wealth and enjoyed comfort, but she chose to follow her own path. At nine she learned to meditate from the family confessor. She made her first Communion at the then-early age of 10 and made a vow of virginity one month later. When 16, she entered the Carmelite convent in Florence because she could receive Communion daily there. </p><p>Catherine had taken the name Mary Magdalene and had been a novice for a year when she became critically ill. Death seemed near so her superiors let her make her profession of vows from a cot in the chapel in a private ceremony. Immediately after, she fell into an ecstasy that lasted about two hours. This was repeated after Communion on the following 40 mornings. These ecstasies were rich experiences of union with God and contained marvelous insights into divine truths. </p><p>As a safeguard against deception and to preserve the revelations, her confessor asked Mary Magdalene to dictate her experiences to sister secretaries. Over the next six years, five large volumes were filled. The first three books record ecstasies from May of 1584 through Pentecost week the following year. This week was a preparation for a severe five-year trial. The fourth book records that trial and the fifth is a collection of letters concerning reform and renewal. Another book, <i>Admonitions</i>, is a collection of her sayings arising from her experiences in the formation of women religious. </p><p>The extraordinary was ordinary for this saint. She read the thoughts of others and predicted future events. During her lifetime, she appeared to several persons in distant places and cured a number of sick people. </p><p>It would be easy to dwell on the ecstasies and pretend that Mary Magdalene only had spiritual highs. This is far from true. It seems that God permitted her this special closeness to prepare her for the five years of desolation that followed when she experienced spiritual dryness. She was plunged into a state of darkness in which she saw nothing but what was horrible in herself and all around her. She had violent temptations and endured great physical suffering. She died in 1607 at 41, and was canonized in 1669.</p> American Catholic Blog Lord, keep me in your care. Guard me in my actions. Teach me to love, and help me to turn to you throughout the day. The world is filled with temptations. As I move through my day, keep me close. May those I encounter feel your loving presence. Lord, be the work of my hands and my heart. Amen.

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