Screenwriters: Brandon Camp, Mike Thompson
Starring: Aaron Eckhart, Jennifer Aniston, Dan Fogler, Judy Greer, Joe Anderson, John Carroll Lynch, Martin Sheen
Running time: 109 mins
Now operating in the screen space once reserved for Meg Ryan, Jennifer Aniston has found her niche as an appealing but slightly our-of-your-league romantic lead. In Love Happens she plays a florist who falls for Aaron Eckhart's widowed self-help guru Burke Ryan. The Rachel Green persona is out in bloom; all the mannerisms, vocal intonations and Anistonisms we've become accustomed to. That's one of numerous problems in Love Happens, a movie that's so mawkish and startlingly average it's hard to muster up much enthusiasm either for or against it. In truth, the film belongs to Eckhart, but it's frustrating to see Aniston lost again in another tepid production and same-old-same-old part (see Office Space, The Good Girl, The Break-Up and even Iron Giant for her best film work).
Director/co-writer Brandon Camp's romantic drama sends Burke back to his hometown three years after his wife's death in a tragic car accident. His career is taking off thanks to his motivational book A-Okay and the relentless efforts of his manager and friend Lane (Fogler) to seal a multi-million dollar deal that'll make him a household name. Burke is holding a week of sold-out seminars in Seattle, yet his career success hides deep-rooted personal angst - he hasn't dated in three years, has lost contact with his father-in-law (Sheen) and getting up on stage to meet his devout fans requires some psyching up. Enter Eloise, an unlucky-in-love plant expert who catches Burke's eye. Aniston is as charming as she can be with an underwritten and dull part (cauterising flower stems being the nadir of her chit-chat), but she vanishes for a long stretch of the movie and only returns when the filmmakers realise they need to get her together with Eckhart, an actor whom she struggles to spark with.
From the outside Love Happens appears to be another breezy Aniston rom-com. It is, however, more a film about dealing with grief and recovering from personal turmoil. Camp's high-minded intentions are admirable, but this is low-key, indie-type feature simplified and inhabited by Hollywood stars for maximum box office clout. Calculated and predictable, it never feels genuine and the journey climaxes with a dreadful "let's all have a cry" finale as Burke overcomes his inner anguish. Sadly, all eyes in the house will be as dry as the Sahara. Before it there's another hideously cringey sequence - bizarrely scored to an epic track from post-rock outfit Explosions In The Sky - that shows a grieving former building contractor tooling up again at Home Depot with the help of Burke and his support group.
There's a few comic interludes punctuating the angst, most effectively when Burke steals his late wife's parrot from his in-laws to set it free, but this lightness of touch arrives late in the game and doesn't mesh with the more serious tone. A needlessly quirky plot device Rocky may be, at least he injects some fun into this leaden TV movie of the week drama. When you're left pondering the idea of a buddy movie with Martin Sheen and talking parrot Rocky then it's quickly evident that Love Happens hasn't struck the chord it was hoping for.
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