(Universal) Jennifer Aniston, Aaron Eckhart, Judy Greer, Dan Fogler, Martin Sheen, John Carroll Lynch, Joe Anderson, Frances Conroy, Sasha Alexander, Clyde Kusatsu, Michael Kopsa, Michelle Harrison. Directed by Brandon Camp
When we lose a loved one, part of us goes into the grave with them. Moving on with your life can be the most courageous thing you ever do.
Dr. Burke Ryan (Eckhart) has become the guru of grief. His bestselling book “A-Okay” deals with the grieving process and has struck a chord with millions of people in mourning. He is selling out seminars and is on the verge of signing a deal with a major marketing firm to turn him into the next Dr. Phil, something his shark of a manager Lane Marshall (Fogler) has been angling for.
Burke came by this knowledge honestly. His wife had died in a tragic car accident three years prior. Now, he is returning to conduct a seminar in Seattle, where his wife grew up and is buried. While in the hotel, he literally bumps into Eloise (Aniston), a quirky florist who takes great delight in writing two-dollar words like “quidnunc” (a word so rare even my spellchecker didn’t recognize it) behind paintings. Intrigued, he asks her out on a date but she explains, in sign language, that she’s deaf, which apparently prohibits her from dating.
Except that she’s not deaf – the joke’s on him! Miffed, he tells her off, then she tells him off, then he sends her flowers inviting her to dinner. Ain’t love grand? In the meantime, his seminar is going as expected, although Walter (Lynch), a grieving father who drove all the way from Montana to attend the seminar (at the behest of his sister, alarmed that the tragedy had also cost Walter his marriage and his contractor’s business) is proving to be a tough nut to crack, so consumed by his own pain that he can’t see anything else.
Because when a dimpled chin guy who just told you off asks you out on a date you should always take him up on it, Eloise goes out to dinner with Burke. A friendship develops, deepening into mutual attraction. Lane is alarmed because Burke is blowing off meetings with the marketing firm execs, and Burke’s nameless father-in-law (Sheen) has shown up at the seminar in order to brand him a hypocrite. As Eloise gets closer to Burke, she begins to realize that he is anything but “A-Okay.”
This is Hollywood formula romantic comedy trying desperately to masquerade as an indie romantic comedy. Director Camp, who also co-wrote the film, has a good eye and utilizes his Seattle and British Columbia locations nicely – it’s a lovely looking film.
The problem here is the writing is hackneyed and full of clichés. Eckhart’s Burke is a brooding, grieving doctor who stares sorrowfully off the Space Needle, uses alcohol as a crutch and won’t use elevators, ever. Know how he’s finally moving on with his life? He gets on an elevator. Ooooooooo those Hollywood writers sure know how to throw a curveball, don’t they?
Aniston’s Eloise is one of those quirky free spirits who probably should have been played by Zooey Deschanel, who’s much better at it. Eloise’s best friend is Judy Greer, who is also much better at playing the flighty best friend – God knows she does it often enough. Aniston herself is adorable, but little more than that. She can be a really marvelous actress, but she hasn’t found the part yet that lets her shine that way. The closest she’s come to stretching is Derailed but otherwise she just seems to get Rachel parts over and over again, which this one is.
Lynch, who is best known for playing Drew Carey’s brother, is a marvelous character actor who takes over whenever he’s onscreen. His part may be a cliché, but Lynch goes way past that level and gives Walter more depth then any other character in the movie. Sheen lends gravitas to the thankless role of the cantankerous father-in-law.
I don’t mind being manipulated – that’s part of a movie’s purpose after all – but I do mind when I see it coming. The big catharsis for Burke is well-performed by Eckhart, but far too pat and coincidental. Camp tries to bring an indie feel to a major studio rom-com, but submarines himself with intrusive product placement (hellloo Home Depot).
The grieving process has been the topic of few really good movies in Hollywood, and the filmmakers missed their shot at making one here. While some of the advice Burke spews as the grief guru is good, it is mostly pretty pat. It’s too bad the writers couldn’t have come up with real characters dealing with the issues of their grief. Then, instead of love happening at random just because, we might have seen a relationship blossom in a more believable manner. That’s the kind of movie that makes me feel a-okay.
REASONS TO GO: Eckhart and Aniston are attractive leads. Camp makes excellent use of his Seattle and British Columbia locations.
REASONS TO STAY: A cliché-ridden script populated with depthless characters misses the opportunity to do a real examination of the grieving process and moving on with one’s life.
FAMILY VALUES: Nothing that most kids haven’t seen before. The grieving parents might be hard for smaller kids to watch.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Director Brandon Camp is the son of Joe Camp, who directed Benji.
HOME OR THEATER: Perfect viewing for cuddling on the couch on a rainy night.
FINAL RATING: 6/10
TOMORROW: Monsters vs. Aliens