In “Love Happens,” Aaron Eckhart — of “The Dark Knight” fame — plays Burke Ryan, a smarmy self-help counselor encouraging everyone to follow a grief management system he developed after his wife’s death. Burke ends up conducting a three-day seminar in Seattle, assuring participants that everything will be “A-OK!,” as the title of his book proclaims.

“Love Happens”

At Quality 16 and Showcase
Universal

On the other side of things, there’s Jennifer Aniston (TV’s “Friends”) who plays Eloise Chandler, a flower shop owner getting over a string of cheating musician boyfriends. She is also presumably accustomed to deflecting the advances of self-help counselors like Burke. The two meet, they squabble and they only have 72 hours together. Even still, they fall for each other, and love happens. At least, this is what the movie description — not to mention the title — tells us.

Based on the title alone, one would expect a slightly sappy romantic comedy that’s funny and predictable but heartwarming all the same. Instead the audience is treated to two hours of a self-indulgent Burke bawling about what a hypocrite he is because he didn’t actually get over his wife’s death. In this sense, Eloise becomes less of a leading romantic figure than a supporting one, prodding Burke along in his tortuous journey toward recovery.

Expectations aside, the movie is a mess. Its vague attempts at humor are painful. The emotional intensity of the film could be held in a teaspoon. There is a scene filled with people slow clapping that will make audiences physically embarrassed for the extras forced to perform in it. And the ending, where Eloise and Burke inevitably get together, seems grafted on. There is scarcely a scene where these two were talking about something even tangentially love-related.

In short, this film has no idea what it wants to be. Is it a satirical film critiquing brand names and big corporations? Is it the Lifetime Channel Weepie of the Year? It’s certainly not a generic romantic comedy, despite its halfhearted attempts to mime one. In this way, “Love Happens” becomes less of a predictable Hollywood film and more of an identity-crisis-stricken Sybil of American cinema.

The excellent cast should have rescued the film, but it failed to live up to its potential. Aaron Eckhart, fresh from the pathos of Harvey Dent and the sleaze of Nick Naylor from “Thank You for Smoking,” paired with Jennifer Aniston, America’s sweetheart, should have sent sparks flying. Something really good could have come from this. Instead, viewers are treated to shots of Eckhart looking morosely to the side, drinking Grey Goose. And then there are the interminable scenes of the grief seminar, which ring of superficiality.

Unexpectedly, Jennifer Aniston might be the saving grace of this movie — or at least the closest thing to it. She breathes some much-needed life into the bland-as-beans character of Burke, faking sign language to escape his come-ons, reading him memorable notecards saved from years of flower deliveries and borrowing a telephone truck to watch a Rogue Wave concert. Deftly, she suggests there might be some semblance of romantic chemistry brewing underneath, but these moments are way too few and far between.

“Love Happens” is poignant without the pathos, and it’s a chick flick without the romance. The movie transcends mere hackneyed Hollywood romance because it can’t even do generic right. And even so, two screenwriters are filing a billion-dollar lawsuit against this movie for the rights to the story because they claim they thought of it first. Why anyone would declare responsibility for this tedious mess of a movie is unexplainable.

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