By Fred Topel | Image property of Universal Pictures
I don’t want to spoil anything, but I will do my duty as a reviewer and disclose what Love Happens is actually about. It’s not the breezy second chance at love rom-com they’re advertising. It’s a total death movie. It’s all about death and getting over death and dealing with grief, and I respect it for that.
Review: Love Happens
It’s a good death movie too. I have a healthy enough relationship with mortality that I can appreciate a drama (or dramedy) about the life moments everyone will deal with at some point. I think this country really needs movies like this. People are so freaked out about death of natural causes that they protest against health care. Imagine if they ever had to deal with a tragic death.
The movie immediately shows it can penetrate the superficial exterior of the “feel good” format. The opening lemonade metaphor knows how obvious it is. It’s so likeable and confident that you forgive it, even before it shows you the twist that acknowledges we’re going to be dealing with something deeper here.
All of the schtick establishing Burke (Aaron Eckhart) as they typical rom-com hero is deeper than it seems. He can’t wait to leave the city. He doesn’t take elevators. He’s in a rush with bad luck in traffic and weather. He’s a self-help guru. Then they drop the bombshell.
Burke’s whole business is grief counseling. His silly little A-Ok schtick is to help people move on with their lives. This movie goes there. It’s not just enough to see him struggling in his own life. He’s got to deal with everyone else’s tragedy. His very success flies in the face of his father-in-law. That’s some sh*t.
By the time they introduce his relationship with Eloise (Jennifer Aniston), you’re just watching people relating and it’s interesting. There are some contrived secrets to be revealed as the three act structure demands, but it sure feels more real than stopping a wedding.
The seminar confessionals exemplify some of the real quirks of people that may sound weird, but they’re healthy and normal. The portraits of entire lives on the cards attached to flower bouquets are profound. They even explain coincidences of plot via character, so they get through the scene while acknowledging “this has to happen to move the story forward.”
It’s still all about death though. Even the tourist dates are about death. You’d better get ready to deal with the tragedies of your life when you go see Love Happens.
While I totally support this message and I think the film handles it very well, it isn’t quite My Sister’s Keeper or Seven Pounds here. There are some really cliché metaphors for recovery and some schmaltzy gestures towards mourners, but I like the premise. At least it says you’re not absolved from hard decisions. You have to make them.
There is one stunt in the third act that feels like a studio just said, “Dude, you have to put some wacky comedy in there.” They even do some animal antics, and there’s not a McConaughey in sight. The score gets all serious when Burke has his big moment, but it still has its power, because the writing is strong and Eckhart is so good. The slow clap is really too much though.
Still, I think Love Happens is awesome. I wish we lived in a country where you could just say, “Hey, here’s a death movie. Come see it.” But we don’t so maybe if this slips through, it can affect people in a positive way. My only question is if a romantic comedy is a rom-com, would a romantic drama be a rom-dram?