Love supposedly happens in “Love Happens.” We’ll have to take their word for it.
Aaron Eckhart and Jennifer Aniston are so utterly lacking in chemistry with each other (and they’re both pretty bland individually) that it’s hard to discern any genuine emotion. What first-time director Brandon Camp gives us instead is a cliché-addled romantic drama that’s short on both romance and drama, one that’s filled with soggy platitudes and contrived catharsis.
Camp also wrote the script with Mike Thompson, which contains such unimaginative, heavy-handed metaphors as walking across hot coals, shopping at Home Depot as a means of rebuilding a life and setting a caged bird free in the woods. It’s a painfully earnest slog reminiscent of such gooey fare as “Pay It Forward,” one that belongs on cable, if anywhere, and probably wouldn’t have seen the light of day theatrically if not for the involvement of its two main stars.
Eckhart plays self-help guru Burke Ryan, a widower who wrote a book about coping with loss after his wife’s death in a car accident three years ago. Now he’s a nationwide sensation, playing to sold-out crowds at cult-like seminars and helping others work through their own grief.
Aniston co-stars as a florist named Eloise, who creates the flower arrangements at the hotel where Burke’s Seattle workshops are taking place. Both are apprehensive about falling in love again, which means that naturally they’re meant to do so with each other. But first, they must meet in an obligatory cute way (by physically bumping into each other in a hotel hallway), then bicker ever-so briefly (the movie’s awkward attempt at creating sexual tension) before settling into a boring relationship over the few days he’s in town.
Rather obviously, since Burke is supposed to have the answers for everyone else, he has none for himself. “Love Happens” hits the hypocrite angle hard at first by having him knock back Grey Goose early and often, even though he professes to be a teetotaler. The script even requires him to preach, “Alcohol is no more of a cure-all than a Band-Aid on a bullet wound.”
But then it abandons this secret, leaving us to wonder for the majority of the picture who Burke really is and whether he’s tormented by his lies. He passes around the “candle of truth” at his seminars, requiring his followers to dig deep and work through their pain, when — you guessed it — he’s the one who needs to be holding that candle the most. “Love Happens” in no way takes advantage of the dark or dangerous attributes that have made Eckhart compelling in the past.
Meanwhile, Eloise falls in line with a distressingly large number of Aniston roles. She gets a chance to show a little zing off the top in bantering with Eckhart but then she winds up being the same sort of supportive friend/girlfriend/wife she’s played in movies ranging from “Rock Star” and “Bruce Almighty” to “Marley & Me” and “He’s Just Not That Into You.” Other movies (“The Good Girl,” “Friends With Money”) have made use of the fact that she’s capable of more than showing up and looking good. It can be done.
Here, there’s so little to her character (and to Burke) that you don’t care whether they wind up together, even though that’s inevitable. Eloise’s stand-out personality trait is that she scrawls arcane words on the walls behind those generically pleasing hotel pictures. The inspiration for this habit is never explained.
That’s not quirky. That’s vandalism.