There are probably two or maybe even three watchable films hidden somewhere within the jumbled mess that is “Love Happens.”
Unfortunately we’re left to watch them all at the same time.
The film stars Aaron Eckhart (Harvey Dent in “The Dark Knight”), who plays Burke, a motivational speaker whose new book helps people past the death of loved ones, and encourages them to move on with their life through a seminar that stretches over a couple of days.
Burke is still working on getting over the death of his wife in a car accident, and breaks several of the rules in his own book: he never uses elevators, he drinks, he hasn’t seen his in-laws since his wife’s death, and otherwise refuses to face her death head-on.
Burke returns home to Seattle, a town he hasn’t been to since his wife’s death, for one of his “coping with grief” seminars at a local hotel, where he bounces in like a game-show host and flashes his toothy grin and his Dane Cook-esque hand signal and catch phrase (“A-okay,” with a corresponding thumb-and-forefinger circle).
Enter Eloise (Jennifer Aniston), a flower-shop owner who has a habit of writing archaic, overly intellectual words on walls behind paintings in hotels. Burke is taken by Eloise, and they start dating.
Indecision is rife throughout the picture at its highest levels, through every subplot. First off, is this a light-hearted romantic comedy, or a weighty drama? A film about a guy getting over the death of his wife typically doesn’t include a scene where he breaks into his in-law’s house to steal a parrot.
Burke as a character has a lot of issues as well. He’s crassly exploiting his wife’s death for financial gain, and he’s confronted by his father-in-law (Martin Sheen), who calls him a hypocrite and asks when he’s going to “stop lying.” And while Burke struggles with that, he seems like a person who genuinely wants to help people.
In one sequence a character asks for a refund shortly after the seminar begins. Burke confronts the man (John Carroll Lynch of “Zodiac”) and convinces him to stay. The scene is designed to make it seem like Burke genuinely cares for the man and his problems, but also comes off like he’s happy he gets to keep the guy’s money.
This is the most interesting aspect of the film, when Burke gets involved in the man’s life. He learns his 12-year-old son died in an accident at his job site, and the man’s life has been ruined by the death; he lost his business and his marriage in addition to his son, and Burke keys in on him even as he fights against opening up emotionally.
The entire romantic subplot between Aniston and Eckhart was dull, trite, and uninteresting and feels unnecessary, and it unfortunately dominates a great deal of the running time, along with some extraneous background characters (including a prototypical kooky best friend played well by Judy Greer, but wholly unnecessary to the story) who bog down the story.
The actors are misused as well. Sheen gets three scenes, one of which is too coy and brief, and a second that is just silly. Frances Conroy of “Six Feet Under” is a wonderful actor, but gets only a single scene as Aniston’s mother (she doesn’t even get a character name).
It all adds up to a film that has no idea where it’s going or what it wants to say, and one that never really gives its audience a chance to connect with.
It’s a shame, because there is some good stuff in there.
Rating: 2 1/2 Yaps (out of 5)