the freshman

My review of Love Happens, Jennifer Aniston's new film, for The Varsity:

The opinions of audiences going to see Brandon Camp’s new film, Love Happens, can be easily depicted by the members of the audience who were sitting to my left and right. My companions in the theatre were a sort of critic-version of the standard devil and angel, each whispering, quite loudly, mixed feelings into my ears. To my left presided a burly and cynical film critic with loftier aspirations than the latest Jennifer Aniston flick, and to my right an elderly couple who were moved by the intended flow of the movie – sobbing at the sad part, and laughing hysterically at the funny ones.

Love Happens stars Aniston and Aaron Eckhart, and follows the path of a self-help ‘guru’ who hypocritically doesn’t follow his own advice (Eckhart’s character, Burke, is still reeling over the death of his wife and an alcohol problem), and a florist fresh out of a bad breakup who is initially skeptical of him and his practice, understandably. However, antics ensue, and she proceeds to help him take the steps he needs to move on.

My devil to the left had no qualms about audibly sharing his disgust at the film, routinely grunting, “Oh, God…” throughout. While he may have taken himself a tad too seriously, I did understand where he was coming from.

Aniston’s character, Eloise, through no fault of the actress, is shallowly written and gains nothing from the story line. While she helps Eckhart’s character, Burke, through his problems, he does nothing whatsoever to help her problems. However, these mainly consist of a typical woman-screwed-over-by-guys-a lot plot, and she shows no other depth or complexity. I do believe that an attempt is made to dive into Eloise’s history when she and Burke visit her mother, who appears to have a problem with alcohol (as is suggested by excessive beer bottles and hint of crazy), but the issue is never raised again.

The only interesting aspects about the character of Eloise are her quirks. She has a unique capability to call out Burke on his hypocrisy in a humorous but blunt fashion, continuously. As well, she rejects him in the beginning because of his flashy cardboard cutouts which portray a forced grin and the ‘a-okay’ symbol flashing to passersby. Finally, simply for self-gratification, she enjoys writing bizarre words, such as poppysmic, behind paintings in the hotel she works for.

Burke’s line of work throughout the movie often deserves a groan or two. At one point in the film he stops Seattle traffic by dragging his workshop members into the middle of the street and forcing them to describe what they see, hear and feel. When all of them describe things like, “cars honking,” “a middle finger,” and “pollution,” he takes them to the very top of an adjacent building and asks them the same question. This time, the responses predictably run along the line of “fresh air,” “the sea,” and “the sunshine.” The point of this exercise is to show that everything can change with a different perspective, even though they’re in the same place - a little “aw” inducing, but mostly cringe worthy.

Finally, I would by no means label this movie as a romantic comedy, merely a romance with comedic bits. Some of these fell very flat, however. Potentially the loudest “Oh, God…” produced by my neighbour came at a moment when each of the workshop members were describing how they had been dealing with the deaths of their loved ones. One woman describes that her late husband wanted her to have a plaster replica done of him, which would seem a tad odd, but overall understandable. She then proceeds to explain that it’s of his genitalia, and that it was created so that they can still make love, at which point the joke becomes sick, twisted, and the potential subject of an entirely different, dark, underground indie film.

Despite these points, the angels to my right continued to weep and break into hysterics on cue, lending support to my opinion that Love Happens is not as bad as I thought it would be. The film does attempt to have more depth than the average romance, and although at times I felt as though it was trying to be Elizabeth town without the true authenticity, it succeeds in avoiding a completely superficial tone.

The character of Burke is quite strong and portrays an intriguing gravity. The audience discovers that not only is he mourning his wife, but he did not attend her funeral and is estranged from her parents, with whom he was very close. As well, Eloise’s best friend Marty, played by Judy Greer, has many shining comedic and heart-felt moments.

The character I found most fascinating was Walter, played by John Carroll Lynch, a gruff man struggling with the untimely and accidental death of his son at his construction site. Walter deals with a highly realistic but interesting combination of guilt and anger, a closed off exterior, and a skepticism of Burke’s work that the audience can clearly relate to. As he progresses, his character continues to shine, and the moment when he is able to shop at a hardware store again, however small it may be, is truly moving.

In the end, I left empathizing with both my devil and my angels - I genuinely enjoyed Love Happens, and although I can see much room for improvement, it exceeded my expectations.

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