By Connie Ogle, The Miami Herald
Love Happens is an incredibly lazy movie — that scintillating title sounds as if someone spent a whole two seconds pondering over it — but not an unbearable one, thanks to Aaron Eckhart’s charm and the fact that the storyline focuses more on his wounded grief counselor than on his budding relationship with a quirky Seattle florist (Jennifer Aniston).
Eckhart plays charismatic self-help guru Burke Ryan, a widowed Ph.D. who writes books and runs workshops aimed at guiding people to confront their grief and move on, though he is not smart enough to realize that releasing a tame cockatoo into the Cascade wilderness is not an act of kindness but animal cruelty. More on that later. Burke is fond of offering such advice as “If you don’t pay the piper, he will come calling,” but is quite incapable of facing the truth about the trauma in his past. And so he is reduced to pouring vodka into the lemonade he makes when life dumps a big mess of lemons on him.
Then he meets Eloise (Aniston, as bland and sitcommy as ever), who’s supplying floral displays for the hotel at which he is staying. He’s intrigued that she scribbles odd words (“quidnunc,” for example) behind the paintings in the hallway. This is the sort of bizarre and pointless act that stands in for actual character development; we never really learn her motivation.
Burke and Eloise don’t immediately hit it off; then they do. And soon Burke is forced to deal with his demons, one of whom is his angry father-in-law (Martin Sheen), owner of the aforementioned cockatoo Burke steals in a scene so over-the-top it belongs in another movie.
Counting the clichés in Love Happens is easy enough, from the boasts of Burke’s cocky agent (Dan Fogler) to the kookiness of an underused Judy Greer as Eloise’s employee to the moment when Burke finally comes clean in front of an audience (one guy starts clapping slowly; others join in; applause builds to a crescendo, etc.). The endless gratuitous shots of the Space Needle and lots of rain serve to remind us that the film is set in Seattle, although apparently the airport has relocated to Pike Place Market.
All of this adds up to one mediocre movie, but Eckhart (who uses the same big killer grin he wielded in the much-better Thank You for Smoking) is always appealing, and happily his face does not melt off as it did in The Dark Knight. Charm can only carry a movie so far, of course. Love Happens is not destined to stick with us or become a romcom classic. It just . . . happened.
Cast: Aaron Eckhart, Jennifer Aniston, Martin Sheen, Dan Fogler, Judy Greer.
Director: Brandon Camp.
Screenwriters: Brandon Camp, Mike Thompson.
Producers: Mary Parent, Scott Stuber, Mike Thompson.
A Universal release. Running time: 109 minutes. Some language, including sexual reference. Playing at area theaters.