September 24, 2009

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Love Happens (PG-13)
Jennifer Aniston and Aaron Eckhart really want their relationship movie to work in Love Happens, a title that would be just as appropriate if you replaced “love” with that other word you usually see before “happens.”

Burke Ryan (Eckhard) is Mr. Grief — through his books and seminars (and, if he’s lucky, eventually TV shows and weight-loss shakes) he tries to talk people through their pain, guilt and anger at losing a loved one and into a shiny new morning of healing and dating again. Against his wishes, however, his agent Lane Marshall (Dan Fogler) has booked one of these multi-day conference-workshop dealies in Seattle, which is home to the parents of the wife he lost three years earlier in a car accident. And though it is that experience that Burke says drove him to write his books, we see that behind the scenes he doesn’t have it as together as his public monologues and his gimmicky walking on coals would suggest. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade, he tells his audience, but he’s taken life’s lemons and made a really tart vodka drink with them.

You’d think that he’d be OK with his drinking and his grief millions but Burke’s still all shook up about the dead wife thing and he hasn’t made peace with her family. Amping up the “Dr. Humpty Dumpty is heading for a great fall” factor is a subplot involving his wife’s father (Martin Sheen), who shows up to berate him and call him a hypocrite.

Wouldn’t you know it, it’s at this same time that Burke is also taking a step toward genuinely moving on in the form of a florist named Eloise (Aniston). He sees her, thinks she’s attractive and does a cutesy bad job at wooing her and taking her on a first date. Naturally, that kind of chemistry can’t help but turn into movie love.

Gaaack.

I like Eckhart — he’s great when using his Don Draper good looks for comic effect. And I even like Aniston, who, when she’s not being forced into stuff like this, can be kind of a fun quirky character. Slate’s Dana Stevens recently praised her more loser-y roles (the “flair” burdened waitress in Office Space, the teenager-dating wife in The Good Girl) and I agree that there’s something kind of fun about the way Aniston can play a person who is always giving a sigh and an eyeroll to life. But I also like her when she has it — or most of it — together as in Management but still finds herself getting in messes. She can be funny. She can have romantic chemistry. As can Eckhart, who can also be deliciously hateable (as in In the Company of Men). But together, here, it’s like watching two people try to bail out a sinking boat with teaspoons.

Love Happens probably never had anything good going for it to begin with but on the off chance it did it has buried that spark so deep in a mish-mash of self-help nonsense and romance clichés that you feel like the movie, and possibly you, are being suffocated. D

Rated PG-13 for some language including sexual references. Directed by Brandon Camp and written by Mike Thompson, Love Happens is an hour and 49 minutes long and distributed in wide release by Universal Pictures.