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2009 Has a Nights in Rodanthe!

Movie Title: Love Happens (2009)
Spoilers: No

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I’ll tell you the short story of how I once spoiled the career of a scriptwriter. It happened when he approached me and asked me to look over a manuscript before sending it off to a group of fellow writers. I looked it over. Everything was fine right up to the part where the bad guy got introduced.

He was supposed to be a mean bad guy, more villainous and more contemptuous than your normal Columbian drug-lord. That’s why this fiendish thug had to be extra wicked. How about make him a sick baby-killer rapist? That works…and then some! Mind you, it wasn’t enough to find just a healthy baby to violate and kill. The bad guy had to be a sick baby-killer rapist.

This otherwise talented writer took my words of wisdom well, even after admitting that his future as a “bright lights big city” Hollywood writer was probably dead before it began. His demise rested in the fact that he was a sucker for the big melodrama wrecking ball, a thing so many writers fall for.

You see the melodrama wrecking ball when you see a writer who goes all out trying to solicit the outpouring of emotion from the viewers. Nothing is quite as bad as the human tendency to overdo things, especially when amateur poets try to sound eloquent in their poetry by throwing in extraneous references to “wind” and “trees” and “roses” to cover for the fact that their words have as little substance as inside the head of a stegosaurus.

Last year, you got to see the wrecking ball in action in Nights in Rodanthe, starring Richard Gere and Diane Lane. Such big stars, such a crappy movie! It had the same key ingredient found in Love Happens—melodrama…enough to colonize ten planets.

In Love Happens, there is little chemistry between Aniston and Eckhart, and what little they have is the highpoint of the film. It’s downhill from there. Jennifer Aniston is Eloise, a successful flower shop owner with a bad dating track record (like you didn’t see that coming!) She meets a chisel-chinned Burke Ryan (Aaron Eckhart), a motivational speaker who lost his wife in a car wreck, wrote a book about dealing with the grief, and became a household name as an “overcoming tragedy” self-help guru.

The problem is, Mr. Self-help guru needs help himself (that’s actually part of the plot. I’m not just saying that to interject that the movie needs help, which it clearly does). The movie doesn’t so much need help as it is beyond help. The simplistic writing culminates in a feeling of contrived that is more pitiable than a poisoned puppy. Scarcely can one or two bits of genuine feeling be pulled out of the entire 109-minute presentation.

And aren’t you the lucky one…you get to follow Ryan around in always-rainy Seattle (of course!) as he instructs a paying mass of grief-stricken wimps on how to be less wimpy. These wimps won’t wait for time to heal their wounds like normal grieving people. They’re wimps. They have to be led around to a tool store to experience the joy of remodeling and wearing tool-belts.

Another thing that is sure to help is having these wimps walk over hot coals barefoot as if they were monks in some stinking rat-infested temple in Tibet. It’s “overcoming fear,” we are told (which would mean something if the wimps had come to the workshop because they were afraid to walk on hot coals to begin with, but they didn’t. So what the hell was the point?) But this crying crew must be pardoned. After all, they are the type of people who cook their husband’s ashes into cookies, so nothing should be surprising.

And gathering on the top of a tall building to hear a lecture…that had a purpose too. The purpose was so that Ryan could make the awesome illustration of how all those distant buildings represent everything that we could have in life if we can just see what’s out there and get past the grief. Jesus, I’m under-whelmed! Dr. Phil, PLEASE kick this guy’s ass!

To any intelligent audience, it should be as obvious as a McDonalds that this guy has nothing to tell people. But who cares, right? Isn’t it just a supporting element of the story? Sure, as is a former contractor whose son fell off some building scaffolding and “snapped his spine in two.” And this wimpy ex-contractor “Walter” (John Carroll Lynch) takes up more than 1/3 of the movie. I don’t know…I think I liked the sick baby-killer rapist idea better.

And Ryan’s deceased wife’s father, played by Martin Sheen, doesn’t like his daughter’s bird that is being kept at his house. Watch as the bird is abducted and then released into the wild, consuming some ten minutes of screen time! Watch with vested interest as this silly little animal fit for the act of a comedian in an amateur comedy club from the 1940s becomes yet another small sub-story in this ferocious fumble of a film.

(JH)

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Grade: F (0 star)
Rated: PG-13
Summary: A widower whose book about coping with loss turns him into a best-selling self-help guru meets a flower shop owner and romance is sparked.
Director: Brandon Camp
Starring: Aaron Eckhart “Burke,” Jennifer Aniston “Eloise,” Dan Fogler “Lane,” John Carroll Lynch “Walter,” Martin Sheen “Burke's Father-in-Law,” Judy Greer “Marty,” Frances Conroy “Eloise's Mom”
Genre: Romance / Drama
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