2009-10-09 / Entertainment/Lifestyles

MovieScope

'Love Happens' - Not Happening
By Robert Snyder

A more apt title for "Love Happens" is "Self-Love Happens."

The Aaron Eckhart-Jennifer Aniston vehicle has very little to do with melancholy florist Eloise Chandler (Aniston) and a lot to do with self-doubting self-help guru Burke Ryan (Eckhart). In fact, the couple only lock lips once, just before the end credits roll.

Directed and co-written by newcomer Brandon Camp, "Love Happens" opens with lemons, also apt because the non-romantic unfunny comedy is one. Burke is cutting up the bitter fruit to make lemonade. The act is a metaphor for the power of positive thinking. We then see that Burke is riding on the success of his motivational therapy book, "A-Okay! A Path Through Grief." He charges into a packed auditorium, surfing on a wave of cheers and applause, and launches into starry-eyed spiel to uplift his audience from the pain of losing loved ones to unexpected death.

As Burke repeatedly points out, he knows of what he speaks because he himself is one with those in his audience: His beloved wife died recently in a tragic car accident. So he feels their pain. The difference is that he's capitalizing on it and is soon to become a "brand" for big bucks. Burke's father-in-law (Martin Sheen) is quick to shove the hypocrisy in his face, momentarily erasing the guru's megawatt smile.

However, the smile re-emerges when Eloise appears with a bunch of flowers to decorate the Seattle hotel, where Burke stays and speaks. In a strange nod to Eckhart's debut 1997 film, "In the Company of Men," Eloise first uses sign language to communicate with Burke. Eckhart's "Company of Men" character is a mean misogynist who seduces and abandons a sweet deaf girl for sport. In "Love Happens," Eloise is simply joking with the sign language. As with many of the film's "jokes," it isn't funny. Nor is it laughable when Burke badgers his followers into walking barefoot over hot coals. One grief-stricken father, Walter (John Carroll Lynch), shows a welcomed sign of insanity when he declines and walks away, as should the rest of the audience on screen and in the theater.

"Love Happens" is an unfocused character study of a motivational speaker, who loses his bearings, only to find them through a florist. While we don't learn much about Eloise, we do know that Burke can't find himself as he searches for answers for others.

Pass on this unfunny confusion.

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