Love Happens Dir. Brandon Camp

[Universal Pictures; 2009]

Who could have imagined a Tony Robbins-style self-help guru would make a compelling love interest in a rom-dram? Does so-called “Unlimited Power” seduce?

Perhaps. But Love Happens doesn’t convince us of that. Aaron Eckhart stars as the charismatic protagonist with all the answers, but this ain’t no Thank You for Smoking. That cynical and smart indie satire seemed tailor-made for the actor, who specializes in the dark shadings behind his characters’ blonde ‘n’ chiseled all-American facades. This feature debut by screenwriter Brandon Camp feels very much like a first film, complete with clunky pacing, head-scratching editing choices, and extraneous, interminable scenes that only a director-writer can love. Somehow, this heartfelt yet dull character piece made the leap from forgettable indie to the blockbuster big-time, thanks to the star wattage of Jennifer Aniston, whose quirky, quasi-grunge florist is one of the few bright spots in this otherwise paint-by-the-numbers, Lifetime-esque affair.

Burke (Eckhart) is the aforementioned inadvertent self-help honcho on the rise: He wrote a book about coping with loss after the death of his wife and, courtesy of his agent Lane (Dan Fogler), is now on the brink of heavily-branded stardom -- TV, radio, vitamin supplements, the works. His job is to make his followers feel good about themselves again, and he’s teaching a sold-out seminar in Seattle when he stumbles upon Eloise (Aniston). She’s planting splashy spots of flowery color throughout his beige hotel and surreptitiously scribbling assorted vocabulary-building words under the corporate-approved artwork.

Why she’s choosing to deface company property; why Bay-Area band Rogue Wave pops up as if everyone should know who they are (never mind that they seem to be playing the possibly their biggest show ever); why we follow the group sessions, bonding exercises, and pop therapeutics of Burke’s class so closely -- all remain total mysteries in this very unmagical misery tour. I'm not pointing this out to belittle those who have actually lost loved ones: In fact, those viewers might just be slightly offended by the way Love Happens jams the grieving process into a too-cute, too-neat narrative arc packed with random, inexplicable elements -- from slam-poetess coworkers to ornery parrots -- designed to make healing look like a snap. Despite the efforts of an embarrassed-looking Eckhart and an ever-perky Aniston, those attempts don't work. Love Happens’s material is so slim that all its key dramatic moments appear in the trailer. So, if you must, watch that and skip the movie -- because life is too short to spend 109 minutes on this crap.

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