Published Sep 17, 2009Oxford defines tragedy as, "a play dealing with tragic events and having an unhappy ending, especially one concerning the downfall of the main character." An audience attending a classical tragedy knows full well that the protagonist will meet a grim fate by the end, and much of the impact of the drama is thus generated by the gloomy dread of the inevitability of the character's situation.
I'd like to posit that a romantic movie works much the same way. The posters for Love Happens feature Jennifer Aniston and Aaron Eckhart in an embrace, and the title is, well, Love Happens. They are two attractive people who have become single under unfortunate circumstances ― Aniston's boyfriend cheated on her, while Eckhart's wife died in a car accident ― who have a disastrous yet humorous first meeting, but who can clearly fill the emptiness in their hearts with each other. They're predestined to be together.
Surprisingly, the film is more about Burke (the Eckhart character) than it is about his romance. Following the death of his wife, Burke has bottled up his sorrows and started a wildly successful career as a grief counsellor. He has written a bestselling book and fills hotel ballrooms, but he hasn't confronted his grief.
Possible salvation comes in the form of Eloise (played by Jennifer Aniston), and with my hand on my heart I must confess that the appeal of Jennifer Aniston eludes me. There is something harsh and brittle about her staccato delivery, and most of her performances have a smugness that strikes me as anti-charming. (I also don't get Dan Fogler, the comedy relief, but that's another matter.)
Eckhart, though, is likeable and easygoing, and because he is a strong and subtle actor I was mildly engrossed by his character's plight. Other actors, including Martin Sheen as his stepfather and John Carrol Lynch as a grieving father, also give good performances but their impact is hampered by the broad emotional strokes of director, co-writer and Joe Camp son Brandon Camp. The film's tone shifts awkwardly between romantic comedy and weepy melodrama. With a few more rewrites, Camp might have emphasized the interesting character study somewhere in the mix.
Incidentally, speaking of Eckhart, this movie would make a great double-bill with In the Company of Men. Just saying. (Universal)