'Sometimes when you least expect it ... Love Happens." That's the advertising tagline for this movie. Doesn't it sound like the first line of a parody sketch? You can even hear Mister Movie Trailer Man booming, "Sometimes when you least expect it ... Love Happens."
From the awful title to the uninspired casting of Jennifer Aniston in a role she's played a half-dozen times before, from the wisecracking best friends to the most shameless weeper scene in recent memory, "Love Happens" is a movie that grates on the nerves like a cell phone with a Lady Gaga ringtone going off at a funeral service.
And we haven't even discussed the parrot yet.
My problems with this film started early on, when Aaron Eckhart's Burke "meets cute" with Aniston's Eloise. They bump into each other in a hotel hallway. Literally.
Really? You're filming a romance, and you're actually going to have the leads meet by bumping into each other? Why not just call your movie "Cliches Happen"?
Eckhart excels at playing charming rogues ("Thank You for Smoking"), but he's miscast as a sensitive widower who has written a best-seller about the grieving process and is now touring the country, giving pep talks and conducting workshops. With his Redfordian hair, his Zegna suits and his at-the-gym-every-day physique, Eckhart comes across more like an upscale gigolo than a guy who's gonna hold your hand as you pine for your dearly departed loved one.
Aniston plays Eloise, who owns a flower shop and has a habit of scribbling obscure words such as "quidnunc" on the walls behind paintings in hotels. Why? Because the screenwriters thought it'd be cute, I suppose. Eloise is ostensibly a lost soul who keeps making bad choices in life, but I don't know, to me she looks like a well-toned Jennifer Aniston after a day at the stylist, and she seems to have her emotional gear intact.
Judy Greer plays Eloise's best friend, Marty. Dan Fogel is Lane Marshall, Burke's best friend (and publicist). They exist mainly to comment on the budding romance between Eloise and Burke, who go dates straight out of the rom-com playbook. Lane's signature explanation for how he makes things happen, which is supposed to be funny: "I'm Lane Goddamn Marshall." It's sounds like a line Neil Simon would have penned 30 years ago -- and then trashed before letting it see the light of day.
"Love Happens" offers scene after scene in which Burke counsels attendees at a multi-day seminar in Seattle. They observe the city from a rooftop, they walk over hot coals, they share their tales of sorrow, they even go on a field trip to Home Depot (don't ask). This is movie about how to grieve while engaging in some serious product placement.
Ah, but what about Burke? Has he practiced what he preaches, is he ready to embrace romance with the lovely Eloise -- or is he still in deep denial about his wife's death? What do you think?
Enter Martin Sheen as Burke's father-in-law. He is a former Marine and lives in Seattle, yet he has the deepest tan and the brightest choppers north of Beverly Hills. Perhaps he founded a tanning salon/teeth whitening office after he retired from the Marines. Anyway, he and his wife have custody of the parrot Burke was supposed to set free if anything ever happened to Burke's wife. (Imagine that conversation: "Honey, if I'm ever in a fatal car accident, will you let the parrot go?") The clumsy slapstick scene in which Burke attempts to recover the parrot is the moment when "Love Happens" careens off the tracks for good.
The film also resorts to the old "lone, slow clapper who is joined by others in the crowd until everyone is on their feet and applauding" bit. I thought that hoary routine was put to death years ago in "Not Another Teen Movie." Guess not.
As for Burke's big breakthrough: It happens on the wrong stage at the wrong time in the wrong way, and then it gets even worse. Instead of choking up and getting lost in the moment, I was just ... dismayed.
I don't think "Love Happens" has its heart in the wrong place. I believe that everyone involved thought they were making a sincere, sweet, emotionally moving story. It's just that every move feels manufactured, and nearly every performance misses the mark, and the tone meanders from maudlin to overly peppy to treacly to sitcomish to just plain sour.
Yes, love happens. There's another four-letter word that happens, too.