WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Pity there aren’t more stringent “truth in labeling” laws for movies like Love Happens. From the film’s title and its innumerable ads featuring stars Jennifer Aniston and Aaron Eckhart locked in a smiling embrace one might reasonably assume Love Happens to be a charming romantic comedy in which its two attractive leads bicker and flirt for a breezy 85 minutes before finally realizing that they’re meant for each other.
That assumption would be catastrophically incorrect for there isn’t much comedy to be found in Love Happens. Nor is there much romance for that matter. And come to think about it there really isn’t a whole lot of Jennifer Aniston exactly one half of the aforementioned misleading embrace to be found in the movie either. (Click here for Aniston's take on the matter.)
That leaves us with the obvious question: What then is Love Happens? It’s a drama centering on the emotional journey of Burke Ryan (Eckhart) a handsome widower who parlays the tragedy of his wife’s untimely death into a bestselling self-help book and a sold-out workshop tour becoming something like the Tony Robbins of grieving. (He's even aped the walking-on-hot-coals gimmick from the toothy motivational speaker.)
Though his adopted career is a smashing success not much else is well in Burke’s world. Truth be told he never truly reconciled himself with his wife’s tragic passing and has heretofore nursed his denial with a steady diet of alcohol and avoidance. That is until he runs into Eloise Chandler (Aniston) a refreshingly blunt free spirit whose own love life is marked by disappointment and heartbreak. Though just a humble florist with no apparent training in psychology Eloise immediately sees through the confident upbeat persona that Burke has carefully constructed. They can ease each other's pain but the healing won’t begin unless both of them are willing to let down their guard and let love -- wait for it -- happen.
WHO’S IN IT?
In addition to Aniston and Eckhart Love Happens’ cast includes Dan Fogler (Balls of Fury) as Burke’s smarmy agent and former college roommate Judy Greer (27 Dresses) as (what else?) Eloise’s quirky sidekick John Carroll Lynch (Zodiac) as one of Burke’s more skeptical workshop attendees and Martin Sheen (Apocalypse Now) as his resentful father-in-law.
Misleading marketing aside Love Happens writer/director Brandon Camp does make an earnest attempt to explore the grieving process of a man who has experienced unspeakable tragedy. Which is better than a saccharine formulaic romantic comedy I guess.
For all its serious intentions Love Happens bears all the hallmarks of a slick studio rom-com including stereotypical supporting characters (his irreverent wing-man her goofy confidante) contrived comic relief devices (Sheen plays straight man to a crazy parrot!) and manipulative tugs on the heartstrings (too many to mention). The whole experience comes off as sort of a second-rate Cameron Crowe flick.
The climax of Love Happens includes a dramatic “slow clap ” in which the lead character finally breaks down in a cathartic release of pent-up emotion and is rewarded with a slow-building round of applause from onlookers. That’s pretty much all you need to know about this movie.
Vince Vaughn never worked as a stand-up comedian but as an actor who struck gold making people laugh he clearly has an affinity for those who tell jokes and shout down hecklers for a living. This side-splitting travelogue documents what happens when Vaughn puts together a comedy version of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. Instead of Annie Oakley and Sitting Bull proudly showing off their feats of skill you have Vaughn goofing around onstage with his buddies and four funnymen busting their butts to win over (occasionally hostile) audiences. And when they’re not trying to generate chuckles with bits about sex shopping and showers the comics must contend with life on the road—driving from city to city with Vaughn in a tour bus that doubles as a frat house on wheels and sharing hotel rooms too small for their fragile egos. At first though you wonder whether the film--and the tour for that matter--is just an excuse for Vaughn to get paid to have fun with Jon Favreau Justin Long Peter Billingsley and Keir O'Donnell in Saturday Night Live-ish skits (a spoof on Favreau’s roundtable gabfest Dinner for Five is money). Or visit places pivotal to his life and career such as the University of Notre Dame where he and Favreau became good pals while filming Rudy. But as the tour progresses Vaughn slowly but surely takes a backseat to the comedians who are trying desperately to make the most of the big break afforded them by their big-name benefactor. There’s no denying that Vaughn’s just as much a larger-than-life presence onstage as he is onscreen. Whether he’s getting his balls busted by Favreau or singing a duet with Dwight Yoakam Vaughn’s certainly comfortable working in front of a live audience. That said he knows his limitations. He wisely sticks to serving as the show’s emcee rather than pretending he’s the second coming of Chris Rock or Jerry Seinfeld. He’s also the face of the tour which means we get to see him in salesman mode trying to part the public from their entertainment dollars. You’re left with no doubt that Vaughn and the occasionally cranky fast-talking alpha males he plays are one and the same. As for the comics John Caparulo and Bret Ernst waste little time grabbing the spotlight. Fueled by nervous energy the foulmouthed Caparulo scores big laughs by machine-gun riffing on his very many shortcomings. Ernst’s “Guido jokes” are also made at his own expense and his hilarious recollection of roller staking as a kid ranks among the film’s most hilarious moments. It’s a tossup as to whether Caparulo and Ernst have the best rapport with audiences but both have bright futures ahead of them. Unfortunately Sebastian Maniscalco doesn’t project much in the way of personality and his neat-freak act just isn’t amusing. Egyptian-born Ahmed Ahmed is a one-trick pony. Yes there’s much humor to be found in his unsettling experiences as an Arab American—especially when he recalls being arrested—but he exhausts the topic so much that he really needs to find something else to take aim at. Anyone owning a YouTube digital camera could probably do just as good a job directing this documentary as Ari Sandel does. He takes a point-and-shoot approach to his subject--which is in contrast to Dane Cook’s stunt-filled series Tourgasm--but that doesn’t matter. This is a film that lives or dies in the editing room not on the road. As the film opens Vaughn naturally dominates the proceedings. And his skits with Favreau et al. are admittedly hysterical. He does quietly but noticeably fade into the background allowing the comics he hand-picked from L.A.’s Comedy Store their shot at glory. Sandel’s priority is to capture them in performance at their best and worst while revealing--through interviews and fly-on-the-wall footage--the trials and tribulations they face as unknowns who have yet out to set the comedy world on fire. To this end Sandel assembles a fun and intimate portrait of four men who during the course of one month bond over their desire to make people bust a gut laughing. And that’s never more evident when they hand out tickets to a show to Hurricane Katrina refugees who have set up camp in a park near Birmingham Ala. By the time the Wild West Comedy Show reaches its final destination of Chicago Vaughn seems exhausted but his compatriots have hit their stride. “We played 30 cities and we rocked all them ” Vaughn giddily declares. If Vaughn didn’t rock your city then the Wild West Comedy Show is definitely the next best thing to being there. Even better there’s no two-drink minimum.
Peter Appleton (Jim Carrey) has it made. His screenwriting career is on the rise his first movie's just been made and he's got a cute girl. Life is good--until the House Un-American Activities Committee mistakenly fingers him as a Communist and he quickly falls from the A-list to the blacklist. Getting dumped by both his studio and his girl is nothing a little drinking can't remedy but after drowning his sorrows he nearly drowns himself when he decides to drive drunk and his car veers into the river knocking him unconscious. When Peter comes to he can't remember who he is or where he came from so he's taken in by the kindly people of Lawson a burg stuck in time and still mourning the loss of many of its sons in World War II. They mistake him for Luke Trimble one of their long-lost boys who went MIA in World War II and are overjoyed at his return. Luke's father Harry (Martin Landau) whose zest for life had dwindled so much that he let his beloved movie house The Majestic fall to ruin but with "Luke's" return he plans to reopen it. Celebrations abound. Peter-as-Luke even returns to his relationship with fiancée Adele (Laurie Holden). Meanwhile Peter may have forgotten who he was but the Feds haven't and they're on his tail.
When Carrey's given the right material like he was with The Truman Show he can exhibit moments of greatness. The Majestic doesn't give Carrey the leeway to show his quirky sensibilities demanding that he play it straight throughout the movie (there are a few--too few--glances at humor that Carrey doesn't play up). To bring off the kind of schmaltz this movie oozes Carrey had to bring something of an edge to his character. Instead Peter is neither likable nor unlikable coming off as a bland confused schmo until the climactic end which after two hours of his weak personality is wholly unbelievable. Landau is unexciting as a caricature of the sad sentimental old man without hope--you want to sympathize but there's something faintly chilly about him. Holden's liberated-woman lawyer might have played better in a contemporary movie; she looks and acts too much like a modern-day actress trying to portray a woman of the '50s.
Was this some kind of vanity project dreamed up by a director too taken with his own greatness and past success? Was Frank Darabont envisioning an It's a Wonderful Life for the next generation? (Psst…it's likely the majority of the modern moviegoing public doesn't know who Frank Capra is and could care less especially when the movie is as slow and as completely unbelievable as this one.) Apparently Darabont's in love with his own direction because hardly a moment goes by without some lingering reaction shot. Darabont took an intriguing story about amnesia and mistaken identity and slathered it with sap. Old-fashioned period stories can be lots of fun but it's imperative they be able to keep a present-day audience's interest by including a bit of modern wit and pace. Unfortunately this sticks to the straight-and-narrow. Nobody's going to buy the two-dimensional main characters the shiny happy townspeople or especially the schlocky my-country-'tis-of-thee finale. In its favor The Majestic's ultimate message is a nice one. The movie does have its heartfelt moments and its '50s feel is authentic if a little polished.