Even motivational speakers can be stricken with bouts of insecurity and Burke is no different. Love Happens’ flat main characters are almost saved by complex and well portrayed secondary characters who steal the scenes whenever they are on screen.
After the death of his wife, Burke (Aaron Eckhart) shares his grief with other people who have lost their loved ones by creating a self help program called A-Okay! While traveling to Seattle for a conference, he meets the beautiful and interesting florist Eloise (Jennifer Aniston) and is instantly struck by her. It isn’t until she sees his interaction with the conference goers that she becomes interested in return. One of the conference goers, Walter (John Carroll Lynch), is drowning in the depths of his grief. Neither Walter nor Burke will admit the extent of the help that they need.
The writing in Love Happens left me feeling jerked about without regard for brain injury that might occur. One minute Burke and Eloise are engaged in a tedious banter of blossoming romance that could make even the most determined insomniac nod off and make the rest of us grind our teeth. Just a second later, there is a poignant interaction between Walter and Burk that reduces the audience to tears. Then, out of nowhere, comes a scene with Burke’s agent, Lane Fucking Marshall (Dan Fogler), that made me want to poke myself in the eye with a coffee stirrer.
In fact, if Love Happens had been exclusively about the emotional struggle that Burke suffered after his wife’s death and the relief he finds from his clients, it might have been a powerful and moving story with lasting impact. Writers Brandon Camp and Mike Thompson couldn’t leave well enough alone and slapped in an unnatural, ineffective, emotionless, pseudo-love-story that turned me off to everything else.
It wasn’t just a failure of writing; Aaron Eckhart and Jennifer Aniston lack the chemistry necessary to make the struggle between the two believable or even palatable. Individually they don’t reach an emotional tentacle out to the audience whenever a secondary character isn’t on screen.
By far the best performance in Love Happens is John Carroll Lynch as the devastated father who lost his son and everything else. He reached into my chest and stole my breath and at times I thought my heart actually tore in two. His story felt so real it was almost tangible and his tears made my shirt wet.
Those moments of deep emotion and undeniably monotonous scenes are sandwiched between endless, unabashed, unashamed brand placement. Eloise obviously works in a florist shop, not because it’s relevant to the story, but because it is a great way to get a huge floral network’s brand in front of the right audience at least ten times during the movie. Burke stays at a nice hotel, not because it’s the best hotel in town, but because we can see their brand all over every wall, in every conference room and in every hallway, even though it adds nothing to the story.
I’d rather watch a ten minute short movie about Burke, Walter and their struggle through grief than a two hour movie that is 90% filler, flowers, marketing and cuddles. On the plus side, your vocabulary will come out bigger than when it went in, if you ignore my warnings and go to this movie anyways.