Love Happens

Reviewed By Mel Valentin
Posted 09/18/09 04:57:12

"A heartbreaking work of staggering banality."
2 stars (Pretty Crappy)

Romantic dramas don’t come any less engaging or compelling than "Love Happens," the latest, but by no means last, attempt to convince moviegoers that Jennifer Aniston belongs on the big screen (as opposed to the small screen where she’s arguably done her best work. Paired up with Aaron Eckhart, an actor capable of depth and range, in a romantic drama centered on damaged characters that seemingly have everything (e.g., career, fat bank accounts, material possessions), but really don’t (romantic love is missing from the equation), "Love Happens" is banality and mediocrity combined and personified, feature-length grief porn for anyone looking for the contact high from watching characters suffer emotionally (if superficially) while the plot, such as it is, moves toward its inevitably clichéd conclusion, minor catharsis reached.

Love Happens follows Burke (Aaron Eckhart), a bestselling author and self-help guru. His relentlessly optimistic, upbeat attitude and willingness to help others, however, mask the still raw, unprocessed wounds associated with his wife’s death three years earlier. He’s a self-help guru who can’t help himself. His business manager and best friend, Lane (Dan Fogler), has nurtured Burke into the bestselling author of “A-Okay,” a self-help manual for the grief-stricken and in-person seminars where Burke leads pep rallies in front of enthusiastic audiences before breaking off into smaller, more intimate workshops to cajole the attendees into working through their grief into acceptance. At his latest stop, Seattle, Washington, Burke hopes to sign a lucrative business deal with Unicom, a multi-media giant.

After the initial meet-and-greet, one of the attendees, Walter (John Carroll Lynch), asks for a refund, but Burke steps in and convinces Walter to continue with the seminar. At almost every step, Walter rejects Burke’s advice, refusing to move past his grief (he’s lost a son). Burke literally runs into Eloise (Jennifer Aniston), a flower seller/arranger who handles the hotel’s flower arrangements. Burke spots Eloise writing something behind a painting. Intrigued, Burke pursues Eloise who, in parallel with Walter, initially rejects Burke’s charms, in part because she just exited a romantic relationship and in part because she doesn’t want a fling, but gradually warms up to him as she spends time with him. Burke’s grief and guilt, of course, haven’t gone anywhere and the presence of his former father-in-law (Martin Sheen) add the obligatory complications.

Unfortunately, Love Happens fails to provide anything except a good cry, momentary release or catharsis, and instant forgettability. Love Happens could have (should have) been easily retitled, Boredom Happens, not for the generic onscreen characters who don’t know they’re in a clichéd, predictable romantic drama, but for moviegoers, who know exactly what they’re getting (or likely to get) from a romantic drama like Love Happens: boy grieves over dead love, boy meets girl, boy loses girl, girl cries, boy cries, superficially honest heart-to-hearts, and the big finish where the characters embrace onscreen while moviegoers tug at their watery eyes moments before the generic indie-rock soundtrack returns for the end credits.

Casting proves to be another, ultimately insurmountable, problem. While Eckhart gives a mostly subdued performance as the still-in-denial Burke, Aniston gives a blank, bland one (albeit in an underwritten, superfluous role). As her role on "Friends" and several romantic comedies have shown, Aniston can handle light comic roles, but the role of Eloise calls for, demands more expressive range, something Aniston seems incapable of offering here. Her reactive character functions more as a therapist and friend than as a romantic partner. It also doesn’t help that Eckhart and Aniston have zero chemistry onscreen. Then again, the real fault with "Love Happens" begins and ends with director and co-writer Brandon Camp and his over-cautious approach to the subject. Pity because "Love Happens" contains a kernel of a good idea, but it’s one that Camp failed to exploit even superficially.

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